Toronto Raptors

Chris Boucher: Why coming off the bench is the right move for the Toronto Raptors centre

Chris Boucher is off to an incredible start to the season.

My colleague here at NBA.com, Scott Rafferty, wrote about how good he's actually been this season. To put it simply, Boucher's play has been inspiring. He's sparked the Raptors to most of their wins and has been at the front line of some good stretches of play in their losses.

Boucher has proven he's an essential part of the rotation, but does that mean he should step into the starting lineup?

The immediate response to whether or not Boucher should start has been pointing to the lack of production Toronto has received from whoever has been its starting center.

So far, the Raptors have used five different starting lineups - none of them have seen Boucher at centre. That burden has fallen on Aron Baynes and the recently released Alex Len. Len's play was uninspiring and Baynes has been struggling after putting up career numbers a season ago. So the natural solution to filling the hole in the middle points to Boucher.

It's natural to assume that plugging Boucher in at the starting five spot would fix some of Toronto's problems, but when you dig a little deeper, the way the Raptors have started games hasn't been a problem.

Through 14 games, the Raptors are scoring 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, which ranks in the top 10. They have a defensive rating of 103.3 in the first quarter, which is good for seventh in the league. For context, if the Raptors kept up those ratings for the entire game, they'd have a top 10 offence and the best defence in the NBA.

Some of the Raptors' first-period success should be attributed to Boucher. Toronto is outscoring teams by 14.3 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor in the first quarter, but it hasn't exactly struggled when Baynes is in the game either. With Baynes on the floor in the first quarter, Toronto is still outscoring teams by 9.5 points per 100 possessions. As poorly as Baynes has played, his starting games hasn't hurt the Raptors. If having Baynes in the starting five isn't necessarily broke, why the rush to fix it?

The real problem for the Raptors has been the second and third quarters. And that falls directly on the feet of the bench. Boucher's play has helped mask the issue, but the reality is Nick Nurse has gotten little-to-nothing from his reserves this season. During the second and third quarters, which is when the starters usually get their rest, the Raptors are being outscored by 8.1 points and 7.2 points per 100 possessions, respectively.

The leads they work hard to build in the first get erased and they're forced to dig themselves out of holes in the fourth quarter. For a team that is objectively limited offensively, it's no surprise they're currently sitting at 5-9 on the season.

Raptors offensive and defensive rating by quarter
Quarter Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
1 112.0 103.3 8.7
2 108.8 116.9 -8.1
3 112.9 120.1 -7.2
4 108.1 100.6 7.5

Boucher is having an incredible season, and he should be getting showered with all the praises that he's receiving as one of the few consistent positives for the Raptors thus far. But putting him into the starting would only further expose the lack of production the second unit is providing at the moment.

We can't properly have a conversation around whether or not Boucher should start until we see more from his fellow bench mob members.

For now, Boucher is in the perfect role for the team.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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