The Toronto Raptors are an immensely deep team, but there are only so many minutes to go around. Between Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who deserves to play more?
Both Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have had their fair share of banner games this season, impressive considering neither has had a single play run for them, ever. The Toronto Raptors could fit either player’s respective playbook on a post-it note.
Instead, both players possess motors that rarely, if ever, stop. That’s a character trait that’s universally admired by every coach in professional sports, not just basketball.
Required to navigate through so many injuries to key players this season, the Toronto Raptors have had to rely on players like Boucher and Hollis-Jefferson to play major minutes. For instance, a year ago, Boucher appeared in 28 games and logged a total of 163 minutes. But this year, the Montreal native has played 711 minutes, across 53 appearances. Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson is averaging fewer minutes this season than he did a year ago, as a member of the Brooklyn Nets. But the modern-day Junkyard Dog gives Toronto meaningful minutes on a routine basis, averaging just shy of 20 minutes per game in his first season with the Raptors.
While both players have enjoyed a decent amount of run in the north this year, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are both going to return and when they do, it’s going to be tough for Nick Nurse to find minutes for both Boucher and Hollis-Jefferson. With that quandary in mind, let’s discuss which player deserves a spot in Toronto’s rotation once the team returns to full health?
A case for Chris ‘Bonjour’ Boucher
Boucher has improved immensely in the pick-and-roll game, a development that has caused Nurse to give him more of a regular role with Toronto this year, compared to last season. His shot technique remains an eyesore, but that may never change. At 27 years old, Boucher’s shot is, well, his shot. Minor tinkering from here on out is my prediction.
As far as areas where Boucher is superior to Hollis-Jefferson in? Rim protection is probably the most glaring discipline – along with Pascal Siakam, Boucher is the only player on the Raptors averaging one block per game in 2019-20.
Rebounding is another part of Boucher’s game that has grown by leaps and bounds this season, but he’s not leaps and bounds ahead of Hollis-Jefferson when it comes to cleaning the glass. Per 100 possessions, the Canadian-born talent grabs 16.2 rebounds, most on the Raptors if you disregard Dewan Hernandez‘s inflated numbers.
Comparatively, Hollis-Jefferson has, to this point in 2019-20, hauled down 11.9 rebounds per 100 possessions. More on the offensive side – both he and Boucher are capable of driving to the basket without much assistance, though, it’s not something Nick Nurse wants either of them getting too comfortable doing, considering the other options available. Where Boucher has a leg up on R-H-J is his ability to keep defences honest with an outside shot. Hollis-Jefferson is confined to paint touches, mostly. Any time the hard-nosed reserve decides to try his luck from the outside, the result is, almost always, clang.
From a consistency standpoint, Hollis-Jefferson is better than Boucher, mind you, Boucher’s boom-or-bust tendencies sometimes can be the difference between a win and a loss. Tuesday’s victory in Phoenix was a prime example of that. Boucher can deliver game-changing performances on occasion, whereas Hollis-Jefferson is more steady with his production. Depending on matchups, going with the high-risk high reward option can be a better strategy than the safe choice, and there’s no denying Boucher, most nights, is a riskier option off the bench than Hollis-Jefferson.
A case for Rondae “All Day” H-J
Whatever blemishes Hollis-Jefferson had on his resume following a highly-scrutinized, four-year stint with the Brooklyn Nets, consider them wiped clean in Toronto. In his first year here, and potentially last due to the fact Hollis-Jefferson signed a team-friendly, one-year contract with the Raptors in the offseason, the former Net has wasted no time endearing himself to both the city, and country. His shot remains very much a work in progress and to be honest, it may never be a thing. But that’s ok because what Hollis-Jefferson lacks in terms of a jump shot, he more than makes up for with hustle and desire. Remember when he shut down Karl-Anthony Towns? Size matters, or does it?
In Hollis-Jefferson’s case, it doesn’t – like any game, basketball rewards hard work, something the first-year Raptor puts on display every time he steps foot on the court, home or away.
Hollis-Jefferson’s impact on Toronto’s success, so we’re clear, goes beyond the numbers, that’s why I’ve yet to cite a single stat in his case for a spot in a healthy Toronto rotation. He rebounds well, thinks the game well, and is an effective distributor of the basketball, something teammate and former G League MVP, Chris Boucher is struggling to master at the top level. If you’re Nick Nurse, you know what you’re getting when you put Hollis-Jefferson into the game. Boucher, on the other hand, is very unpredictable. If there’s one thing coaches hate, especially in the postseason, it’s not knowing what a player will give you on a nightly basis.
Both players bring pros and cons to the table, with Hollis-Jefferson being the superior on-ball defender and Boucher being more effective as a help defender. Defensively, I give the edge to Hollis-Jefferson, though. Boucher’s LOUD! blocks, while memorable, are offset by frequent gaffes.
Asked before the game in Phoenix what he made of Boucher’s recent struggles, Nurse put it rather bluntly:
"“I would say quite simply the answer is his mental approach, right?”– Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, when asked about Chris Boucher’s recent struggles"
Hollis-Jefferson is a much more versatile defender than his Canadian teammate. On offence, both players get the majority of their points on hustle plays. Boucher and Hollis-Jefferson rank 1 & 2 on the Raptors, in offensive rebound percentage.
In the end, I think both players see their minutes squeezed once the likes of Gasol and Ibaka return. But ultimately, Nick Nurse will wind up going with Hollis-Jefferson more down the stretch. However, the playoffs bring with them heightened importance on outside shooting, meaning we could see Boucher more once the season shifts to playoff mode.
The question is: Is Chris Boucher going to be in Nick Nurse’s good books once the playoffs arrive?