If you scroll through the NBA’s Player Efficiency Rating rankings — an advanced statistic created by John Hollinger to measure a player’s value — you’ll see the usual cast of characters. At No. 10 is Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s just behind Minneapolis’ Karl-Anthony Towns at No. 8, Washington’s Bradley Beal at No. 6, and Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant at No. 4. A little higher up you’ll see Joel Embiid, the 76ers superstar centre who has taken his game to another level this season, and Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets’ MVP candidate who is leading all players in the metric. But sandwiched between the two all-world centres is a Toronto Raptors player and probably not the kind of “superstar” you’d expect to see atop one of these lists. That strange name would be Chris Boucher.
Through 11 games this year Boucher has posted a 29.22 PER, second to only Jokic. His Win Shares per 48 — another catch-all advanced metric — is again second to only Jokic and ahead of the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Embiid, and Durant, respectively. On top of that, Boucher’s True Shooting percentage is fourth in the league, just ahead of players like Miami’s Bam Adebayo, Durant, and Paul George of the Clippers. This is all a long way of saying, Chris Boucher is playing like a superstar.
“I don’t want to act like I’m in shock here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said following Toronto’s 111-108 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday. “But he is playing really well and as good as the numbers look, there’s a lot of room for improvement. I don’t mean going from scoring 20 to scoring 30, I’m talking about he’s really close in making a lot of the right plays at the defensive end that he’s not quite getting to. He does make a lot, a blocked shot here and a big rebound there and those kinds of things but he’s really close to being a really solid defensive player.”
Boucher has clearly become Toronto’s best big. Not only has he defied expectations, but he’s done it while the Raptors’ other centres have done little to warrant playing time. For comparison, the Raptors have a Net Rating of +7.8 when Boucher is on the court compared to -11.4 for Aron Baynes and -19.4 for Alex Len, according to Cleaning the Glass.
On the surface, it seems obvious that Boucher should be Toronto’s starting big. Yet building a starting lineup isn’t as easy as just starting your five best players. Instead, Nurse has to account for fit and feel. If Boucher is bringing a spark off the bench and is still playing 25 to 30 minutes — as he has in each of the last four games — it doesn’t matter if he’s not starting. Especially if it doesn’t bother him.
“I feel like at the end of the day my role is still the same, starting, not starting,” Boucher said. “I think they pretty much see what I do: bring energy to the game, play defence, shot-blocking, run the floor and hit 3s when I’m open. Starting or not starting, this is my role. I’m good with the way I am. I’m good with the position I’m in.”
The biggest difference it makes is for gamblers who are probably looking at Boucher as a serious sixth man of the year award winner. As of Friday, Boucher can be found at +900 or nine-to-1 to win the award, according to Covers. That’s the fifth-highest in the NBA, behind Jordan Clarkson, Caris LeVert, Goran Dragic, and former Raptor Terrence Ross.
Boucher is certainly due for some regression this season. Even if the 28-year-old has a breakout season, he’s more likely to be in the Most Improved Player discussion than the Most Valuable Player discussion. But as for his Sixth Man of the Year candidacy, that might is probably up to Nurse and how Toronto’s starting lineup looks going forward.