It’s no surprise to anyone that the Toronto Raptors have had their struggles this season with their centres and the decision on who to start and who to sit.
The Toronto Raptors signed big men Aron Baynes and Alex Len after losing both of their own big men in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, which really hurt a roster that thrived on depth and physicality from the center position. In an under-the-radar move, the team also re-signed Chris Boucher, a former G League Player of the Year, to a two-year deal. Oddly enough, that signing is looking like the best deal out of all three big men that were signed in the off-season given how Boucher has blossomed on the offensive end.
The main question staring Nick Nurse in the face right now is deciding if the Raptors should start Boucher or stick with the underperforming Baynes in an effort to keep Boucher as a dominant force off of the bench. Keeping Boucher as an ace sixth man makes sense for a multitude of reasons.
Chris Boucher has risen from a G League player to a Sixth Man of the Year candidate
For starters, Boucher isn’t a young player like some might assume. Despite just entering his fourth NBA season, he just turned 28 years old not that long ago, further showing how improbable his rise up the league’s totem pole has been.
Boucher, who has finally been given an opportunity to show what he is capable of doing on the basketball court, has quickly proven he is worth every penny of his new contract that he signed in the off-season. He went from barely seeing any playing minutes to solidifying a bench role in 2021. While he is averaging just 6.9 points per game for his career, he has been electrifying in 2021, averaging 15.5 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, per Basketball-Reference, while showing 59 percent from the field and 48 percent from three.
Although the Raptors and Boucher have only played 14 games so far this season, he has. more than rewarded the club for their trust in him during the small sample size. He plays exceptionally well on the defensive end, can provide great shot-blocking at the rim, and even nail a few jumpers the perimeter.
Currently averaging career highs in almost every single major statistical category, Boucher has certainly made himself a case to become the Raptors new starting centre over guys like Baynes. As tempting as it would be to make him the starting center, he and the Raptors are probably better off sticking him in the second unit.
Why should Chris Boucher remain on the bench?
Taking Boucher off the bench and starting him would be the best thing to do for a struggling Raptors team, even though they have put together a little win streak as of late. Yes, he would obviously help this team start games on time and help contribute with the other four starters, but taking a guy like Boucher off that bench will drastically impact the production of the team’s second unit.
Currently, the Raptors will send the likes of Norman Powell, Terence Davis, and Stanley Johnson out on the floor with Boucher. Depending on how the flow of the game goes, Yuta Watanabe and Malachi Flynn also see some court action. With those players that make up the handful of guys that come off the bench, the Raptors rank 11th in the NBA in points off the bench. As good as that sounds, if you take Boucher off that bench rotation and slot him into the starting lineup, the bench production will take a massive decline unless players like Davis and Flynn start scoring the lights out.
Boucher should stay as a reserve rather than a starter, in part, due to the fact he does not match up well against most centres in this league and can get outplayed in the pain by bigger guys. As great a plater as Boucher is, especially on the defensive end, his slight frame doesn’t match up well against guys that start for championship contenders, as muscular centres like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Rudy Gobert would likely have little trouble backing Boucher down. Let Boucher remain on the bench, where he’ll assume the role of primary defensive stuffer and rin-runner, and let him thrive rather than forcing him to get beat up by centers like Embiid and Jokic.
Boucher might be more on the slim side of things, but that still doesn’t change the fact that he is willing to drive to the rim looking for contact, as he doesn’t shy away from that.
As bad as Baynes might be on offense, as the Raptors are managing a pathetic 80 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, there is a method to Nurse’s madness here. Nurse is essentially forcing Baynes to matchup early against the big framed centres and get that offensive spark from Boucher off that bench, as he brings a jolt of energy off the bench that ignites the whole team when they aren’t playing their best basketball on the offensive side and or the defensive side, We’ve seen that play out. more than once this season so far.
With Boucher serving as the perfect high-energy big on both sides of the floor given his expanding offensive game and ability to block shots on the defensive side of things, why fix what isn’t broken? As long as Boucher gets his minutes, he should stay on the bench and in consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year award.