In a year of ups and downs that saw the Toronto Raptors' playoff streak come to an end, here's a reminder that things haven't been all bad.
One of the biggest positives to take away from the strange 2020-21 season is the performance of Chris Boucher.
After signing a two-year, $13 million deal last offseason, the 28-year-old has lived up to - and outperformed - his contract, with averages of 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from deep, which are all the best marks of his NBA career.
While a lack of team success could prevent him from winning, Boucher has, without a doubt, turned in a season worth consideration for both Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.
Here are the cases for both…
The case for Most Improved Player
Let's start with the obvious by taking a look at the numbers.
Coming into the season, Boucher had big shoes to fill. The departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in free agency meant there would be plenty of opportunity for the bigs on Toronto's roster. But no one was more prepared for the task at hand than Boucher.
As the numbers indicate, he's been more efficient and carved a niche as a rim-protecting stretch four that can also clean the glass.
After a solid 12-point performance in the season opener, Boucher followed with a monster game of 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in just the second game of the season.
Chris Boucher 🇨🇦 recorded a career-high 7 BLOCKS against San Antonio! pic.twitter.com/2jDHj4q3bs- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) December 27, 2020
But was it an anomaly or a sign of things to come?
As time would tell, it was the latter.
After scoring 20 or more points just three times through the first three seasons of his career, Boucher did so seven times in the first 13 games of the season, including a stretch of six games in which he scored 20-plus five times while posting averages of 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.
With two games remaining, he's up to 13 20-point nights on the season.
With respect to scoring, Boucher has set a new career-high three times this season, most recently finishing with 38 points and 19 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls on April 8. By the way, those 19 boards are also a new career-best, making this one of 12 double-doubles he's recorded this year.
Keeping Up With The Canadians 🇨🇦- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) April 9, 2021
Chris Boucher | vs. Chicago
38 POINTS (CH)
3 THREE POINTERS
19 REBOUNDS (CH)#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/X01tLAg82Y
And of course, you can't mention Boucher without the blocks.
In addition to leading the league with his signature blocked 3-point attempts, Boucher's 1.9 blocks per game rank fifth in the league behind only Clint Capela, Nerlens Noel, Rudy Gobert and Myles Turner, making him one of the league's best at rim protection, and a key part of Toronto's defence.
The case for Sixth Man of the Year
Even more impressive than Boucher's raw numbers? The fact that he's mostly doing it in a reserve role.
In fact, the first start of Boucher's career came 30 games into this season.
As the season winds down, Boucher has made just 14 starts, while coming off the bench 46 times, meaning his eligibility for Sixth Man of the Year shouldn't even come into question. There's something to be said for a player that can bring it regardless of the role they're placed into, and Boucher has done just that.
And while some of his most prolific performances have come as a starter, Boucher's efficiency peaks when he comes off the bench.
Of players that have come off of the bench 40 or more times this season, Boucher is first in blocks per game, fourth in rebounds per game and sixth in scoring.
Jordan Clarkson established himself as an early favourite with his offensive exploits, but the two-way prowess displayed by Boucher this season gives him a much different type of case, a very well-rounded one at that.
The team success of the Utah Jazz could ultimately be the difference-maker, as both Clarkson and Joe Ingles are favoured to win the award over Boucher, who has the fourth-best odds at Sixth Man of the Year, according to PointsBet.
While he might fall shy of a top-three finish and designation as a finalist, Boucher's evolution into a reliable stretch big man that has put forth a body of work worthy of award consideration is no small thing to gloss over.
Considering how far he's come from being an undrafted two-way player, the next step of the evolution could be even greater.
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