Nick Nurse wants to find more playing time for Chris Boucher. Yet where, on a talent-packed roster, is the Toronto Raptors head coach going to find those minutes?
“I’d really like to find a role for Chris. I think he has played with great energy and he seems to always block a shot or make a three as soon as he steps on the floor,” Nurse said this week. “I’d like to find a chance to play him a little more if I can. We’ll see how I can figure that out coming up.”
Boucher appeared in just 28 Raptors games last season, his first on the team. This year, the 26-year-old Montrealer has already played in 23 of Toronto’s 26 contests, averaging 11.7 minutes.
That number of minutes is skewed somewhat though, since the Raptors called on the forward extensively while Serge Ibaka was sidelined for 10 games in November with an ankle injury. He can play both centre and power forward, so Boucher averaged between 12 and 25 minutes a night over that stretch. He scored in double digits six times, including double-doubles with big rebounding numbers against the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks. He also blocked nine shots during that time.
Since Ibaka returned on Dec. 1, Boucher has played as little as three minutes and as many as 14. He knows that when Nurse calls on him, the head coach wants intense energy, shot blocking and rebounding. Boucher is also a steady three-point shooter who can stretch defences.
“I know I’m still part of the team and I work hard and I think people on this team are happy with the energy I have. I always stay ready,” Boucher said. “Last year I was just happy to make the team. Now knowing all the plays feels good, and it’s about how I can help the team and find more of a role – rebounding, blocking shots, whatever they need.”
As the Raptors concluded practice on Tuesday, Fred VanVleet and Boucher were the last two players on the floor. The six-foot point guard from Rockford, Ill., took the young 6-foot-9 Canadian power forward aside and walked him through some ways to beat opponents at the rim.
“We don’t play the same position and we’re not the same size, but Fred can definitely teach me about that because he gets to the rim a lot easier than lots of other people do,” Boucher said. “Getting advice from him is great, because if he can get to the rim at his size, it should be a lot easier for me at my size to beat these big guys.”
Like VanVleet, Boucher went undrafted and forged his own path to the NBA. The Canadian’s story has been widely told. He was born in St. Lucia and moved to Quebec as a young boy. Raised in a poor Montreal neighbourhood, he dropped out of high school at 16 to work at a St. Hubert’s chicken restaurant. Despite being a relative newcomer to the sport, Boucher was discovered at a basketball tournament as a teen and recruited to an academy. That eventually directed him on his path to playing at the University of Oregon.
After going undrafted, Boucher spent the past two years predominantly playing in the NBA’s G-League. First, he was with Golden State’s affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. Last year he starred for Toronto’s Raptors 905, being honoured as the league’s most valuable player and its defensive player of the year.
Now listed at 200 pounds, Boucher said the Raptors helped him add about 10 pounds of muscle to his slender frame in the summer. He said he feels much stronger, and plans to add 10 to 15 more each summer. The Raptors will need him to defend large, physical NBA big men. Nurse doesn’t want to underestimate what Boucher can do.
“I don’t want to assume anything. I don’t want to say Chris can’t guard Tristan Thompson – well, he did [Monday] night. Or he can’t guard [Andre] Drummond because of the body. You just never know,” Nurse said. “He’s so unique I think with his quickness and length and timing. Maybe you just have to let him roll.”
Nurse admitted that increasing Boucher’s minutes is hard. Ibaka and Marc Gasol take up most of the minutes at centre. That leaves Boucher mostly at power forward, which requires him to cover the perimeter, the pick-and-pop, and still have the energy to grab rebounds and block shots.
“If you say you want to give someone more minutes that means you are taking some away from somebody else and I don’t really know who that is right now,” Nurse said. “Do I chip a couple away from Pascal? Maybe. I certainly don’t think OG [Anunoby] is in position to have his [clipped]. … Serge has been pretty low, Marc has been pretty low. There are not a lot of free minutes there. I will keep thinking about how to expand his role.”