Starting Chris Boucher May Be an Obvious but Difficult Choice for Raptors

Starting Chris Boucher May Be an Obvious but Difficult Choice for Raptors
About midway through Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s post-game media availability on Monday I asked him the question about his starting lineup. Lineup changes had become the talking point of the Raptors’ four-game West Coast road trip. When it started in Phoenix the Raptors were using Aron Baynes as their starting centre. Then against Sacramento Baynes was benched in favour of Alex Len. Two days later, Norman Powell got the nod over Len against the Golden State Warriors. When things tipped off on Monday in Portland, it was Len back in the starting lineup leaping for the jump ball.

Following Monday’s 112-111 loss to the Trail Blazers, two things had become clear. For one, Nurse’s search isn’t over. Secondly, Nurse is tired of searching.

“This fixation with the starting lineup is getting a little old,” he said answering my question about using Chris Boucher in the starting line. “But I’ll keep answering the questions.”

The short answer was yes, Nurse will be considering moving Boucher up to the starting lineup. There’s little doubt he hasn’t already considered it along with a handful of other lineup variations this season.

“I’m trying to figure out where guys play best and maybe, you know, maybe it changes a look for a guy, coming off the bench he plays a little better, plays a little bit more relaxed, maybe plays better with a different group of guys, maybe the matchups on the other team are better for him, whatever it is,” Nurse said prior to the Raptors game in Sacramento. “I’ll be honest with you here because, you know, I could make the case here for a lot of guys.”

Where guys fit best is a little bit complicated. Boucher has undoubtedly been the Raptors’ best big this year. He’s posted a plus-8.7 Net Rating this season, per Cleaning the Glass, compared to minus-11.3 for Baynes and minus-19.2 for Len. He’s provided Toronto with a little bit of everything, from 3-point shooting to rim-running to shot-blocking and a little bit of rebounding.

“He’s playing at a super high level,” Nurse said following the Trail Blazers’ game. “He’s certainly been a real bright spot. I think again he plays with great tenacity always and always puts you in a good position, he’s fighting on the glass and blocking shots here and there, he’s running the floor and plus the offence has been good. I think it’s guys, he’s found the open areas and they’ve created a lot of good kick out shots for him, and he’s rolled and got a few put backs and all that kind of stuff, so he’s been great.”

Not starting Boucher, per se, didn’t really cost Toronto against Portland. Once it became evident that Len wasn’t going to be the answer on Monday, Nurse quickly moved on, playing Boucher for 32 minutes. After the Trail Blazers went on a 10-2 run to close the second quarter with Len on the court, Nurse never went back to the Ukrainian big.

The problem with starting Boucher — if there is one — is how it affects the bench. Boucher has always been an energizer who can come into the game and change things up. Moving him into the starting rotation would change the way the second unit works, something Nurse is keenly aware of.

“I think there’s certain guys that do bring a consistent energy from the bench and it isn’t always that you wanna, you know, if you take that and put them in the starting lineup, that could be missing,” Nurse said prior to the Raptors’ game against Sacramento. “That certainly comes into consideration.”

At this point, it seems to be only a matter of time before Nurse moves Boucher up and into the starting lineup. The 28-year-old has been too impressive not to be a starter. But at the same time, Nurse is right. If Boucher is getting 30-plus minutes off the bench and his energy with the second unit helps the team win, then whoever gets their name called out with the starters doesn’t really matter.

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