Toronto Raptors big Chris Boucher won G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the first player ever to win both awards.
Boucher, 26, first checked in with HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy back in May 2017. The two discussed Boucher’s unique journey, from dropping out of high school to earning minimum wage at a restaurant to unexpectedly becoming great at basketball despite initially not liking the sport. Now on the Raptors, his hard work paid off as he excelled in the G League.
Overall, his Player Efficiency Rating (28.5) ranked second-best among those who played at least two games in the development league. Only two players in the G League earned more Win Shares (5.6) this season. For him to shine in both these catch-all measurements was a huge sign of his progress.
The road wasn’t always easy for the 26-year-old and his two-way contract with Toronto forced him to bounce around quite a bit, which made it hard for him to find his footing.
“It’s a tough journey,” Boucher told HoopsHype. “Last year, I was on a two-way deal but I wasn’t moving as much. But this year was back and forth, up and down and flying from here to there. That is one thing that I’ve learned: how tough it is mentally. But it taught me I was tough mentally because I was able to do it and win awards and sign a contract.”
These adversities were nothing new to Boucher, who didn’t let any struggles stop him from getting to where he is today. Josh Jamieson, the director of basketball operations for the University of Oregon, worked directly with Boucher as well as other Ducks in the NBA including Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Troy Brown Jr.
“The best way to describe Chris is that he is somebody who overcame tremendous odds to find himself in this situation,” Jamieson said. “He had a lot of challenges – being homeless at one point and being out of basketball and dealing with some adversity that most people cannot imagine for somebody who has ended up in the place that he is now.
“But I don’t think he ever viewed himself as a victim of circumstance, it was more just that this is the life that he had. And then at some point, he made the decision that he was the only one who could improve it and therefore just worked with the mentality that he could overcome those circumstances if he worked hard. And Chris was always fun. If you know Chris, you know he always has a smile on his face, especially once he warms up to people. He’s really got a great heart.”
There were several moments at Oregon when he flashed signs of greatness that were impossible to ignore. However, even there, he dealt with extraordinary adversity at times but took it in stride.
“I think what Oregon coach Dana Altman does that is so unique is he teaches the guys well, but he also prepares them for the fact that it’s not always going to be steady and positive,” Jamieson said. “Altman does the whole graph, talking about Michael Jordan breaking his foot. He says nobody has ever had a career that has had a steady, upward trajectory the entire time. So with that, he’s constantly reminding the guys that they are going to face good days and bad. We want to prepare you for both. We might win a big game, but we don’t want to take that as though we’ve made it to the final destination. This helped Chris because he did go through the ACL tear at probably the hardest time to deal with that injury. But I think the fact Coach always reminded Chris that this is just part of your story and part of the fabric of who you’re going to be really helped him grasp that this is another example of one of those challenges.”
Boucher agrees, noting that the time he spent in Eugene prepared him for the next level and gave him insight into what the future might look like with all of its highs and lows.
“If you went to Oregon, they show you the basics of it,” explained Boucher. “When you get here, you realize that is what I learned this and that is why it worked like that.”
So when he finally received an opportunity to shine in the G League, his production was no surprise for those who have followed his career. But the extent of his dominance was a pleasant surprise, even for his biggest supporters.
He scored a season-high 47 points with eight rebounds and seven blocks against the Oklahoma City Blue. Boucher had at least 27 points on 15 different occasions during the season and his team won all but two of those games.
Patrick McCaw, who was on the Golden State Warriors when Boucher had a two-way deal with the Warriors last season, is now on the Raptors so the two are once again teammates. McCaw has been impressed with Boucher’s development.
“We hit it off because he is a great guy with a great personality,” said McCaw. “He believes in himself and loves the game of basketball. He was working hard on his game. He was just somebody who was just ready for his opportunity. I believe in his game and what he brings to the table and it’s starting to show. His accolades are a tribute to his hard work and dedication and what he wants to be in the near future.”
According to Malcolm Miller, who played alongside Boucher in the G League and now joins him on the NBA roster, his teammate never gives up on either end of the court.
“He blocks shots and did whatever the team needed of him, which was definitely a big part of our success down there and will be a part of his success going forward,” Miller told HoopsHype. “Whenever we needed some energy and everything, he was the one to try to hype us up and try to get us playing the right way. His energy definitely picked us up.”
Not only was he a rim protector but he also connected on at least three shots from beyond the arc in over a dozen games, including two contests in which he hit six three-pointers. Among players taller than 6-foot-10 who played at least a dozen games, no one made more outside shots per game (2.2) than Boucher.
Boucher has made 11 three-pointers (2.8 per 36 minutes) since getting called up to the NBA as well.
“I think that since college, a lot of teams wanted to know if my jump shot would translate to the NBA, especially considering the line is a little bit farther,” said Boucher. “I’ve had a lot of time to work on it. They’ve enjoyed what they’ve seen and they want me to keep working on it.”
Additionally, there were seven appearances in which he had at least 10 defensive rebounds to go with four blocks in the same game. He led the G league with 4.1 blocks per game, posting the third-best block percentage in the league.
Boucher even recorded a triple-double with blocks rather than assists, the first of its kind in G League postseason history.
“I think it’s more about confidence,” Boucher said. “Blocking shots and rebounding, I’ve always been able to do that. But confidence induces a lot in your game and I’ve been put in a lot of different positions where I did things I did not know I could.”
Now that he is on the NBA roster, he has seen the court for 139 minutes in 27 games. The organization has been thrilled with his development thus far and wants to find more opportunities for him to see the floor. His teammates have been enamored with his presence in the locker room and on the roster.
While his slight frame might be a disadvantage when facing bigger centers, there is a lot to like about his performance during practice and even in games.
“He’s kind of a modern five,” coach Nick Nurse said to HoopsHype. “He screens, blocks shots, pick and rolls, pick and pops, he rebounds. But he is not very big. The only problem with him is [whether] he can play against some of these big NBA centers. He’s done a great job as far as he is fearless, he makes threes, he’ll block shot after shot after shot. He loves shot blocking. He’s a competitor. Now, what can we do with it? Can we figure out a way that his role or skill set can maybe improve so he can play a little more against fours or at least be able to guard them on the perimeter so that we can find a way to get him on the floor?”
Some of his NBA highlights, including the marvelous chase-down block below, give folks plenty of reason to believe in his talent and potential.
Boucher’s journey may remind some of fellow Raptor Pascal Siakam, who didn’t play basketball until he was 15 years old but is now considered the favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Even though Siakam was a late first-round pick and Boucher was undrafted, both play with contagious energy. Norm Powell, who previously spent time in the G League but is now in the Raptors’ rotation, believes it to be a fair comparison.
“His energy is amazing. He’s like Pascal,” Powell said to HoopsHype. “Chris can run the floor and get out and can get lobs like Pascal in transition. He has shown at times that he can space and hit the three. The more comfortable he becomes with that, the more of an impact he can make.”
Siakam, who overheard the conversation, jumped in and added that Boucher constantly plays hard and has impressed him. Boucher admires the leaps that his Cameroonian teammate has made from last year to this year.
“Pascal has a lot of things that he does that I can’t do but there is a lot of stuff that I feel like I can do, too,” Boucher said. “When I start looking at it and I see how great he did, it definitely gives me hope and it helps me work harder, I’m going to keep watching him and learning from him because he has kind of had the same journey as me.”
After winning G League MVP and DPOY, he has continued to set his goals high and is certainly drawing inspiration from Siakam in the process. With the progress he has made thus far, it seems the sky is the limit for Boucher.
“I’m trying to get to be the best player I can be, whether it’s Most Improved Player or Defensive Player of the Year. Whatever it is, I’m trying to go get it. I’m going to get there with work. I’ve seen what one year did and with another summer, who knows what can happen?”