Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse says Chris Boucher is one of the NBA’s most unique players.
He can sprint out to block three-point shots, stretching his seven-foot-four wingspan like Inspector Gadget to send the ball sailing into the stands. He can fly to the rim and score on tip-in dunks.
“We, the coaching staff, appreciate the things he does and we try to get him to do those things because it’s really unique. Who blocks as many three-point attempts as Chris?” Nurse said. “He brings energy (and) he plays much tougher than his (lean 200-pound) body might look.”
But the enigmatic Boucher has been wildly inconsistent.
“There’s always been our share of ups and downs with his performance, his happiness, minutes, all that kind of stuff … which that’s part of the growing process too,” Nurse said on Day 2 of Raptors training camp at the University of Victoria.
“I think we accept the fact that he’s not going to be great every night.
“There are some nights when he’s picking and popping and not hitting those, and he can’t live in that world, that’s always just extra for us. (He has to) continue to run, continue to crash the glass, continue to block shots and continue to be that spirit, that force of spirit that he is out there and playing hard.”
Montreal’s Boucher was the Raptors’ key free agent this past off-season, signing a new three-year deal worth US$35.25 million.
The new contract came after a roller-coaster season that saw the six-foot-10 forward average 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game off the bench.
But he sputtered out to a horrible first couple of months that hit rock bottom Dec. 26 in Cleveland. Boucher was the most senior Raptor that night on an eight-man roster ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak. Toronto lost by 45 points.
Three months later, Boucher described it as “one of the worst games ever, my family they wanted to shut down the TV, that’s how bad it was.”
His improvement from that point was impressive. Heading into the off-season with “a bitter taste after the playoffs,” Boucher spent much of the summer working out with Toronto teammates.
“I really wanted to put in my work and have a big impact,” he said.
His goal for this season is consistency.
“I’ve seen both seasons. I’ve played a great defensive season and I’ve played a great offensive season in Tampa (in 2020-21). I’m just trying to put both together,” Boucher said.
Boucher averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the Raptors’ season spent playing out of Tampa, Fla., and had a couple of huge games, including a 38-point, 19-rebound performance against Chicago.
“I spent a lot of time this summer working on (consistency at both ends), and not forgetting where I come from, what I’ve been doing when I’ve been successful,” Boucher said.
Where he comes from is one of the league’s most unique stories as well.
Boucher famously rode an overnight bus as a homeless teenager. He dropped out of high school and worked as a cook in a Montreal chicken restaurant.
He tore his ACL in his senior NCAA season with the Oregon Ducks — and somehow played the rest of the game — and then went undrafted.
Boucher shone with Toronto’s G League affiliate Raptors 905, however, earning G League MVP and defensive player of the year in 2019.
Then in 2020, he signed a two-year, US$13.5 deal with Toronto for the richest contract in NBA history for a Canadian who went undrafted.
The 29-year-old has some insight when it comes to current training camp players hoping to crack the Raptors roster.
“Coming from me, a guy like this, sometimes it’s hard to believe (in yourself),” Boucher said. “(But) if you’re here, you’re already doing something right, so that is something I tell them is ‘you wouldn’t be here if they didn’t really like you.
“So, if you keep doing what they brought you here for, usually, the door’s gonna get opened. That’s what I did.”
The Raptors wrap up camp Friday. Toronto starts the pre-season Sunday in Edmonton against the Utah Jazz.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press