The Toronto Raptors are starting to get a sneak peek at what things are going to look like next season.
Between Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and presumably Gary Trent Jr., the Raptors already have a core of four players who should be around for the foreseeable future. If you add rookie Malachi Flynn to the picture that's five players who will be around next season. After that things start to get a little bit murkier.
Kyle Lowry is an unrestricted free agent and considering he's 35 years old his future with the team is very much up in the air. If he wants to return at a reasonable salary the Raptors would likely be happy to bring him back, but he's reportedly been tied to the Miami Heat for next season and therefore his Raptors days could be nearing an end.
What the Raptors do appear to have is the makings of a pretty sustainable backup frontcourt. Chris Boucher has a non-guaranteed contract for next season and Khem Birch is already beginning to attract some attention as the kind of player Toronto could (and should) re-sign this summer. Ideally, those two are backup bigs in the NBA and can come off the bench and provide a spark with Toronto's second unit.
That's been one of the many problems plaguing the Raptors this season. Not only have they asked players like Boucher and Birch to start far too often, but more often than not they've asked Boucher to play out of position and take on centres who have 50-plus pounds on him.
Next season Nurse would like to see that change.
"I think he's got to play the four," Nurse said Wednesday of Boucher. "I think we found that out here this year, he's got to be a four or less. I think it's just, you can't line up with him with the size and that he sees night in and night out."
Lineup data can be a little bit wonky with so much positionless basketball these days, but the numbers certainly suggest Boucher is much, much better suited to play power forward, specifically in terms of rebounding. When Boucher is classified as the centre, the Raptors give up offensive rebounds on 30.8% of their opponent's misses, per Cleaning the Glass. For comparison, the Raptors are the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA and their season average is 27.9% in that same stat. Conversely, when Boucher is classified as the power forward, that number plummets to 21.3%, which is better than the Chicago Bulls who rank atop the NBA in defensive rebounding this year.
A lot of that is just due to Boucher's lack of size and his inability to really box out and contest rebounds.
"I feel like centre is more interior, bang, get boards, short rolls, sometimes pop, but I think power forward is more perimeter on both offence and defence," Birch said.
That type of 'banging' in the paint just isn't something Boucher is particularly good at. He's much better suited to be popping behind the arc for 3-pointers, roaming the defensive zone freely to contest 3-point shooters, and crashing in from behind the arc to grab stray rebounds.
Lately, Boucher has seen some time working alongside Birch in that potential frontcourt of the future. The two Montrealers have played 27 minutes together over the past three games and have been +6 with a Net Rating of +8.3. What's more impressive has been their defensive rebounding numbers. When the two are playing together opponents are grabbing just 21.4% of their misses as offensive rebounds, per Cleaning the Glass.
The key to making this all work next season is adding a starting-caliber centre and that is going to be much easier said than done. There aren't very many on the free agency market and those who are will likely be re-signing with their current teams. If Toronto can, however, lure one either via the trade market, free agency, or potentially the draft, the future for the Raptors would look a lot better.
Gary Trent Jr. (RFA)
DeAnder' Bembry (Non Gauranteed)
Paul Watson Jr. (Non Guaranteed)
Yuta Watanabe (2-way)
Chris Boucher (Non Guaranteed)
Khem Birch (FA)