VICTORIA – Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse says Chris Boucher is one of the NBA’s most special players.
He could sprint to block three-point shots, spread his seven-foot-four wingspan like an inspector gadget to send the ball 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 special. Who can block three-point attempts like Chris? Nurse said. “He brings energy (and) he shows his (lean 200-pound) body. He plays a lot harder than that.”
But the enigmatic Boucher is extremely unstable.
“We always have our ups and downs with his performance, his happiness, the minutes, all that kind of stuff. . . It’s also part of the growing process,” said Nurse on Day 2 of the Raptors’ training camp at the University of Victoria.
“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 them, and he can’t live in that world, that’s always extra for us. (He’s got to) keep running, keep crashing the glass, keep blocking shots and keep that spirit, he’s got to stay out there and keep 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 deal comes 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 hit rock bottom on Dec. 26 in Cleveland after a terrible first two months. Boucher was the most senior Raptor that night on a list of eight people ravaged by the COVID-19 outbreak. Toronto lost 45 points.
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Three months later, Boucher called it “one of the worst games ever, my family wanted to turn off the TV, that’s how bad it was.”
His improvement since then has been impressive. Heading into the off-season with a “bitter taste after the playoffs,” Boucher spent much of the summer working with Toronto teammates.
“I really wanted to put in my work and have a big impact,” he said.
His aim is to be consistent this season.
“I watched two seasons. I had a great defensive season and a great offensive season in Tampa (in 2020-21). I’m trying to put the two together,” Boucher said.
Boucher averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the Raptors’ season in Tampa, Fla. has played since and had two huge games, including a 38-point, 19-rebound performance against Chicago.
“I spent a lot of time this summer (consistency on both ends), and I didn’t forget where I came from, what I was doing when I was successful,” Boucher said.
Where he came from is one of the league’s most unique stories.
Boucher drove a night bus as a homeless youth. He dropped out of high school and worked as a cook at a Montreal chicken restaurant.
He tore his ACL during his senior NCAA season against the Oregon Ducks — and somehow played the rest of the game — and then went undrafted.
Boucher shined with Toronto’s G League affiliate Raptors 905, however, earning G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.
Later in 2020, he signed a two-year US$13.5 million deal with Toronto for the most undrafted Canadian in NBA history.
The 29-year-old has some insight when it comes to the current training camp players hoping to crack the Raptors’ roster.
“Coming from me, a guy like this, sometimes it’s hard to believe (in you),” Boucher said. “(But) if you’re here, you’re already doing something right, so what I tell them is ‘If they didn’t really like you, you wouldn’t be here.
“So, if you’re doing what they brought you here for, usually, the door will open. That’s what I did.”
The Raptors wrapped up camp on Friday. Toronto’s pre-season opens Sunday in Edmonton against the Utah Jazz.
This report was originally published by The Canadian Press on September 28, 2022.
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