Raptors’ Chris Boucher ready to put new physique to test when play resumes

TORONTO — You won’t be hearing any complaints about the food in the NBA’s Walt Disney World bubble from Toronto Raptors big man Chris Boucher.

“They’re doing a good job, they gave us like five or six restaurants that we can order from the app that’s outside of what we’re getting from the team already,” Boucher said in a conference call Friday. “I always love steak and stuff, and every restaurant that we go to, they have steak, they have salads, I’m going to keep on with it, and I get enough food here to sustain my needs.”

For Boucher, those needs apparently include a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet to help keep the newly-gained strength and mass he put on during the COVID-19-mandated four-month season suspension.

When the Raptors first arrived in Florida before entering the Disney bubble, Boucher told reporters that he’d put on 15 pounds during the hiatus, thanks to a regular regiment of proper healthy eating and exercise — an encouraging development for the Raptors, but one with unknown results at the time, as Boucher was then still only limited to individual work.

Fast-forward to the Raptors arriving in the bubble and Boucher’s not only been able to maintain what has become his usual dietary routine, but all that work to try to bulk up that originally lithe six-foot-nine, 200-pound frame is showing tangible results.

“I feel it when I finish, I feel like I was falling on the ground a lot, when I was dribbling the ball I was getting off balance or just focusing on contact so much I feel like I was scared of the hits and stuff so right now I feel it a lot more,” Boucher said. “I feel a lot stronger going for a rebound, boxing out. … Me and Serge fight a lot on the box out and stuff now and he’s going at me for me to get better so I can see the difference from the beginning of the season and now how I can stay with him and fight.

“Marc Gasol and all these guys, they’re going at me and they want me to get better and through the COVID-19 [league shutdown] I figured out a way to get stronger and now I can see it and it’s really helpful with my game.”

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been equally as impressed with Boucher’s physical improvement and is even mulling if this now calls for a larger role for the Canadian when the season resumes.

“From what he has done so far, he is trying to make a pitch and trying to get in the rotation and stay in it and get some quality playing time, that’s for sure,” Nurse said. “He certainly is drawing some attention from the coaching staff, that’s for sure, the way he is playing.”

Boucher would make for an interesting and potentially vital addition to Nurse’s rotation — particularly in the playoffs. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are high-level bigs, but after them Toronto’s depth at the five drops greatly with the team more likely to play small than go with a traditional centre. With Boucher in the fold, however, the Raptors have some insurance at centre in case Gasol and Ibaka are hit with foul trouble early.

Additionally, because of his varied skill set, Boucher could just make for an intriguing change-of-pace option for Nurse at times, too.

“He’s one of those guys, the less things to think about keeps his motor running high, if that makes any sense. He’s just really kind of trying to play hard in any screen and roll and find any open area,” said Nurse.

“Defensively, I’ve always thought, ‘Yeah, he’s going to have some post-up issues,’ but it’s almost like we want to let him roam a little freer which makes him better on the floor, because he can weak-side shot block and also most of the fours are stretching to the three-point line and we know he’s a great shot-contester, even a shot-blocker, for three-point shots.”

Boucher can seamlessly transition between playing power forward or centre, and because of his natural lateral quickness and athleticism, is comfortable enough at times to even check guards.

This is the kind of Swiss army knife that every NBA team is looking for, and now with added strength to ensure to doesn’t just get bullied around the block and underneath the basket anymore, Boucher seems primed to finally put this whole package together during the reset.

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