September 25, 2022

Chris Boucher doesn’t look like a typical NBA player. Sure, he’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, and sure, he can shoot and defend, but he also checks in at just 200 pounds. He’s not quite a member of the Thin Towers, but he’s close: his weight ranks 46th out of 47 players his size last season, according to Stathead, and weighs 28 pounds less than that of the average 6-foot-9 NBA player. .

And the reserve big man didn’t have the most productive 2021-22 season: in 80 games, he averaged just 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. Even on a Raptors team that relies heavily on players of his size and skill set, Boucher, in his 29-year-old season, was relegated to 21 minutes per game.

These demerits made Boucher a relatively anonymous free agent. ESPN did not include him in its list of the top 15 free agents available. NBC has listed 30 names, none of which are Boucher’s. He snuck onto the Hoops Hype list, but only at the no. 27.

But, strange proportions or not, mediocre statistics or not, Boucher deserves to generate much more interest. Last seen posting a 25-point, 10-rebound double-double as the 76ers knocked their Raptors out of the playoffs, this abnormal player offers legitimate two-way potential and is a perfect fit for the direction of modern basketball. . He won’t rock the title race on his own, but he’s the summer’s most underrated free agent.

Although his box stats lack momentum, Boucher seems to have a knack for improving his team year after year when he’s on the court. He has led the Raptors in net rating in each of the past two seasons. In that regard, he’s similar to Alex Caruso and recent Sixers acquisition De’Anthony Melton, two guards who boast mediocre scoring stats but impressive impact numbers.

The best kind of stat to measure this phenomenon is the RAPM, or regularized adjusted plus-minus, which takes the net rating a team has with a given player on the field and adjusts the identities of their teammates and opponents. As a proof of concept, here are RAPM’s top twelve players over the past three regular seasons, according to NBA Shot Charts:

  1. Kawhi Leonard
  2. Jayson Tatum
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Rudy Gobert
  5. Stephen Curry
  6. Joel Embid
  7. Chris Paul
  8. james lebron
  9. Alex Caruso
  10. Paul George
  11. Nikola Jokic
  12. Kevin Durant

Ignore the order (most of these players are grouped pretty tightly) and it’s a pretty accurate representation of the best players in the league. The only outlier is Caruso, an elite role player.

Boucher doesn’t look like a superstar by RAPM, but he ranks pretty well. The great substitute ranks 40th among all players over the past three seasons, one place behind Jamal Murray and two behind Marcus Smart. RAPM says he improves his team by 2.8 points per 100 possessions, which is a significant margin.

Granted, no one would actually suggest that Boucher is one of the NBA’s top 50 players, but he does have some superlative assets. First of all, despite his slender build, Boucher is a lanky shot blocker, both on the edge and on the perimeter. In recent seasons, only Matisse Thybulle has blocked more 3-pointers than Boucher, who uses his speed and 7-foot-4 wingspan to close in on unsuspecting shooters.

He’s also an opportunistic offensive rebounder, a skill that can be overlooked in a league that doesn’t prioritize smashing boards but can rock playoff games nonetheless. (Just ask the Warriors and Kevon Looney.) Sometimes Boucher catches the offensive boards himself; other times his positioning helps his teammates do the honors. Last season, the Raptors grabbed 4.3% more offensive rebounds when Boucher was on the ground than when he wasn’t, according to Cleaning the Glass — the third straight season they’ve been much better at it. with Butcher.

Combine those two forces, and Boucher is one of six players with at least 3,000 minutes played over the past three seasons to exceed a 10% offensive rebound rate and a 5% block rate. And he’s the only member of that group with a 3-point range to speak of.

High block and offensive rebound totals, last three seasons

PlayerBLK %ORB%3P
PlayerBLK %ORB%3P
chris butcher6.210.7196
Hassan Whiteside8.014.24
Jacob Poeltl5.812.91
Michael Robinson7.015.30
Robert WilliamsIII7.514.30
Rudy Gobert5.812.10

This chart includes players with at least 3,000 minutes played over the past three seasons, and at least a 10% offensive rebound rate and a 5% block rate over that time.

(Release the minute limit and a few other big names like Isaiah Hartenstein are also on that list, though more non-shooters. Hartenstein, also a future free agent, also places a spot behind Boucher in the RAPM standings.)

Boucher isn’t as nimble a passer or as physical a defender as Williams, but his 3-point shot adds an element that Williams doesn’t have. The big question for Boucher is how real his shot is. He increased his 3-point accuracy to 38.3% in 2020-21, then fell back to 29.7% last season. The league as a whole was far worse last season, having played in mostly empty gyms in 2020-21, but Boucher’s downfall was one of the biggest for any player.

Biggest 3-point drop percentage last season (min. 150 attempts)

Player2020-212021-22To change
Player2020-212021-22To change
Ty Jerome42.3%29.0%-13.2%
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander41.8%30.0%-11.8%
Reggie Jackson43.3%32.6%-10.6%
Marcus Morris47.3%36.7%-10.6%
Joe Ingles45.1%34.7%-10.4%
Julius Randle41.1%30.8%-10.4%
Cameron Payne44.0%33.6%-10.3%
Frank Jackson40.7%30.8%-9.8%
Jeff Green41.2%31.5%-9.7%
chris butcher38.3%29.7%-8.6%

Several lines of evidence suggest that Boucher may remain a competent floor spacer in the future, however. His free throw percentages have always remained strong (78.5% in his career), highlighting his deft shooting touch. And most of his struggles last season were limited to an abysmal start, as he shot 21% from 3s in his first 28 games; thereafter, he bounced back into the mid-30s for the remainder of the regular season and made 40% of his playoff tries.

Ultimately, Boucher has an extreme skill set: he’s really good at the things he does well and really bad at the things he doesn’t. (Look at his paltry assist numbers for an example of the latter: He had 25 assists in 80 games last season.) He’s not a 30-minute-a-night fix against every opponent. But as long as his team knows his strengths and can put him in an appropriate role – as the Warriors did en route to a title with supporting players like Looney and Gary Payton II – he can excel when given the chance. request.

His rail-thin physique might hurt him against bigger physical men, but there aren’t many teams that can take advantage of that as post-ups continue to dwindle across the league. As recently as 2014-15, all 30 teams were using post-ups for at least 5% of their possessions; last season only seven teams made it, and no team was in double digits. Boucher’s foul rate – once a major problem with his lack of size – has gone down with each season of his career.

Boucher can also stay with guards on the perimeter when called. Over the past two seasons, opposing teams have scored just 0.91 points per possession attacking Boucher on a switch, per Second Spectrum, which ranks in the 20th percentile in efficiency. For more context, Looney and Al Horford, two accomplished switching greats, are also both at 0.91 points per possession in the same span.

In free agency, Boucher could be a particularly attractive option as some teams embrace a modern twin tower philosophy, moving away from the super-small trend of the late 2010s. At just 200 pounds, Boucher probably can’t hold the shot as a full-time center, but when paired with a big entrenched, he can fill a league-wide need for big men who can protect the rim while maintaining perimeter mobility. He could be a good fit for the Bulls or the Timberwolves, both of whom are reportedly eyeing Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela in the trade market. He would also work as a deviously suitable backup option for a team like the Bucks, should Bobby Portis leave for more money elsewhere.

Not everyone neglects Boucher as Freedom of Action approaches. To Athleticism, John Hollinger’s advanced statistics model indicates that Boucher is the no. 8 players across the class, ahead of a bunch of more advertised names. Hollinger’s player model indicates that Boucher is worth $19.8 million a year. He could be paid half that amount, which would make him a bargain for a competitor short on space.

Even with a wobbly shot, Boucher is still a valuable player, as he proved in a bench role for the Raptors last season. But if his shooting is legit and returns closer to his 2020-21 level, then Boucher would be the kind of two-way player everyone needs in the modern NBA. No team can have enough players who can protect the paint and space the floor. Teams should take note when Boucher will be available on July 1.