VICTORIA — Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse says Chris Boucher is a one-of-a-kind player in the NBA.
He can sprint to block three-point shots, stretching his seven-foot-four wingspan like “Inspector Gadget” to send the ball into the stands. He can also jump to the ring and score dunks after rebounds.
« 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? said Nurse. “He brings energy and plays much more robustly than his body (slender 200 pounds) seems to allow him. »
But Boucher, always enigmatic, was very inconstant.
« There’s always been some ups and downs with his performance, his mood, his minutes, all that kind of stuff…which is also part of the learning process, » Nurse said during the second day of Raptors training camp at the University of Victoria.
“I think we accept the fact that he’s not going to be dominant every night.
“He has nights where he just picks and rolls and he doesn’t get his shots. He can no longer live in this world. […] He needs to keep running, attacking the ring, blocking shots and showing good spirits. This very strong state of mind that allows him to play hard. »
The Montrealer was free agent this summer and was the only notable member of the Raptors who could leave the club. He did, however, sign a three-year contract worth $35.25 million with the Queen City team.
The new deal came after a roller-coaster season that saw the six-foot-10 forward average 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.
However, he had a very bad first few months. He hit rock bottom on Dec. 26 in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. Boucher was the oldest Raptors member that night in an eight-player cast, decimated by COVID-19. The Raptors lost by 45 points.
Three months later, Boucher described the encounter as « one of the worst ever. My family wanted to turn off the television. It was that bad. »
His progress after this failure has been impressive. Boucher entered the offseason with « a sour taste after the last playoffs, » but spent much of the summer training with his Raptors teammates.
« I really wanted to work hard this summer and make a big impact, » he admitted.
His goal for this season is to have consistency in his game.
“I have known both types of seasons. I played a great defensive season [cette année] and I had a great offensive season in Tampa (in 2020-21). Now, I just try to combine the two, ”launched the Quebecer.
Boucher averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the Raptors’ season in Tampa, Fla. Among his few games where he was brilliant, he had a performance of 38 points and 19 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls.
“I spent a lot of time this summer working on [la cohésion entre les deux phases de jeu]. But, I did it without forgetting where I come from and what I did to succeed,” he said.
Where he came from is also an unprecedented story in the NBA.
After nights of sitting on a bus as a homeless teenager, Boucher left high school to work as a cook in a Montreal restaurant.
He then tore his anterior cruciate ligament his senior year at Oregon and was not drafted into the NBA.
Boucher went on to become the G-League Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year with the Raptors 905 in 2019.
Then in 2020, he signed a two-year, $13.5 million contract with the Raptors. He then signed the most lucrative contract in NBA history for a Canadian who was not drafted.
The 29-year-old also serves as a mentor to young players hoping to make the Raptors team after training camp.
« Coming from me, a guy who’s been there, sometimes it’s hard to believe [en soi]he confessed. [Mais] if you’re here, it’s because you’re already doing something good. So I tell them they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t really love them.
« So if you keep doing what they brought you here for, usually you’re going to force their hand. That’s what I did. »
Training camp will end on Friday. The Raptors will then begin their preseason on Sunday in Edmonton against the Utah Jazz.