Nick Nurse has a pretty simple theory about basketball greatness.
On any given night any player in the NBA can score 20 points. Frankly, on any given night the vast majority of the league can go off for 30, 40, or occasionally 50 points in a single game. These shocking one-time performances are always impressive, but that's rarely what really catches the attention of the Toronto Raptors head coach. To Nurse, it's about consistency.
For years that's what Nurse talked about when it came to Norman Powell. The former Raptors guard was wont to go off for 20 to 30 points on any given night, but Nurse always wanted to see what he'd do the next night. What happens, Nurse wondered, when his shot isn't falling on seemingly every attempt? On those nights, Nurse wanted to see how Powell contributed on the defensive end, how he broke out of his shooting slump or maybe impact plays in other ways. That's, of course, what the great ones do. Look at LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or any other truly elite NBA player. Not only do they score 20-plus points on a regular basis, but even on their off nights, those stars find ways to contribute.
On Thursday, Chris Boucher had one of those spectacular and unpredictable nights. He went off for a career-high 38 points and snagged a career-high 19 rebounds. He had his usual pick-and-pop points and a shocking number of putbacks, but it was some of the other scoring he did that was so unusual.
He was nailing off-the-dribble, pull-up, mid-range jump shots and attacking the rim off the bounce like an NBA superstar.
"He was hitting shots I don't think I've ever seen him take before, he was dribbling, driving, stepping back, he was he in a moment tonight, that's for sure," Nurse said. "Big night for him, really, really, really proud of him, happy for him."
That response came after Nurse was asked if seeing a performance like that from Boucher made him wonder why Boucher can't have nights like Thursday more often. So many times this season Boucher will show flashes of truly impressive skills, blocking shots, snagging rebounds, and pick-and-popping opposing teams to death. The problem has been the next night or sometimes the night after that when Boucher is non-existent. When his shots won't drop, his rebounding falls off, and his defence just isn't quite good enough more often than not to battle opposing bigs. It's why his playing time this season would look better as an electrocardiogram chart.
The next step for Boucher isn't so much working off the dribble and creating offensively as he did Thursday night, it's about finding a little more consistency. He doesn't need to go off for 30 points and almost 20 rebounds every night, he just can't have those nights when he's unplayable. That primarily means improving his defence.
"I feel like lately I've been doing a lot better job just boxing out, trying to get to the bigs early, fight the post catch and I feel like if I come earlier into the game ready with a mindset of I can't let myself get bullied it really helps me out," Boucher said.
At this point in the season, the Raptors should be letting Boucher work out these kinks. He now knows what it's like to be bullied by bigger centres and he said he's had enough of that. He working on coming up with ways to be a more reliable defensive big man and that, he said, comes with repetition.
It's unlikely Boucher is Toronto's long-term answer in the paint. He's still better suited as a big man off the bench who can provide some energy and some scoring pop for a second unit. But that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. Even at 28 years old, Boucher is still a baby in terms of NBA experience so the more reps he gets to work out the kinks, the more consistent he will become, and, hopefully for the Raptors' sake, the better things will be in the future.