Toronto Raptors

Chris Boucher: Raptors big man looks to rise to Nick Nurse's latest challenge

Three games into the 2021-22 NBA season, the Toronto Raptors are very much in a process of figuring things out.

Two nights after their opening-night loss to the Washington Wizards, the Raptors responded with a blowout win over the Boston Celtics, only to fade in the second half against the Dallas Mavericks one night later.

TAKEAWAYS: Raptors fade in second half vs. Mavs

Suffice to say the early theme of the season has been defined by ups and downs, except for Chris Boucher, according to head coach Nick Nurse.

"I didn't see any up," Nurse began when asked if Boucher was too up and down against the Mavericks on Saturday. "He needs to start playing better, period."

Against Dallas, Boucher was a minus-eight in the box score, going 0-for-5 from the field to finish with zero points, two rebounds, two blocks, an assist, steal and a turnover in just eight minutes of action. As Nurse's words would indicate, the Raptors will need more from Boucher this season as he rounds out a frontcourt rotation that features Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch and, once he returns from injury, Pascal Siakam.

Boucher, who is coming off of a career season in which he averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks over 60 games, provides a different dynamic than Toronto's other bigs with a unique blend of 3-point shooting, rebounding and rim protection. That said, Boucher's ability to contribute in multiple areas is a big factor in the team's ability to find success, which provides more context to Nurse's vocal criticism.

This isn't the first time that Nurse has called out one of his players, or Boucher, for that matter. In March of 2020, Nurse said that Boucher and the Raptors reserves hadn't "played worth a darn," to which Boucher responded with a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double in a win over the Phoenix Suns.

A year and a half later, Nurse's early-season words double as an assessment of what he has seen so far and a challenge for Boucher to get back to the level of play he displayed during the 2020-21 season. It's worth noting that Boucher's slow start can be attributed to the fact that this is his first action of the season after missing the entirety of training camp and the preseason as he recovered from undergoing minor surgery on his non-shooting hand.

From that perspective, the first three games of this season have been like Boucher's preseason, as each of Toronto's rotational players got three to four games of tune-ups to sharpen the tools for the regular season, leaving Boucher a bit behind the curve.

Given the Raptors' slim margin for error and the fact that these wins and losses count now, they can ill-afford any more ineffective showings from Boucher, which would further explain Nurse's words. Big showings from Boucher can be the difference between the Raptors floundering and finding success as they anticipate Siakam's return, which could come in late November.

Boucher will have his next opportunity to make Saturday's performance a distant memory when the Raptors are in action against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, Oct. 25 (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN 4).

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