When the Golden State Warriors cut two-way contract Chris Boucher this summer, there was a mini revolt among supporters of the team. Many fans - and seemingly a large portion of the fans who populate the Golden State of Mind community - had quite taken to the intriguing prospect.
There was a sentiment among some fans that the Warriors were making a mistake by letting Boucher go; and now, two months into the 2018-19 NBA season, the second-year big’s play is adding some fuel to that fire.
So why did the Warriors let Boucher go? And was it actually a mistake? Let’s dig into it all . . .
Boucher’s brief Warriors tenure
Boucher was guaranteed to be a project from the second he entered the NBA in 2017. He was already 24-years old, was lanky as all heck, and had only been playing organized basketball since he was 16. And while he had played well alongside Jordan Bell at the University of Oregon, he was far from being an NBA-ready player.
The Warriors signed Boucher to a two-way contract alongside Quinn Cook, with the hopes that they could develop the young big man. And while he showed promise, his rawness was on full display. Over the course of 20 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League, Boucher averaged 11.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, with a sub-par true-shooting percentage of 52.5%. Decent numbers, but not the kind that suggested he would have anything to offer an NBA squad.
In March, Boucher briefly made his NBA debut with the Warriors, appearing in one game, and playing one minute.
The end of his Golden days
Golden State cut Boucher on June 22, just two weeks after their season ended with a second-straight title, and the day after the 2018 NBA Draft (he was presumably retained until that point in case Golden State needed to use him in a draft-day trade).
The reason for the departure was clear. Boucher and Cook represented different two-way strategies; while the former was a project, stashed in the G League to develop further, the latter was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency NBA-ready talent, who could contribute to the roster should any injuries occur.
When Steph Curry was injured in the spring, Cook’s readiness became of the utmost importance, to the point where the Warriors guaranteed his contract so he could play in the postseason. He was a critical member of the championship squad.
Entering the 2018 offseason, with exceptionally limited amounts of money to spend, General Manager Bob Myers made it clear that the Warriors would seek to fill their two-way spots with Cook-esque players: NBA-ready talents who could play big minutes in big games, and still help the team.
Damion Lee, who played well in 15 games for the Atlanta Hawks as a rookie, was a strong first choice. The second spot went to undrafted free agent Marcus Derrickson, someone I made a case for during Summer League.
The Toronto explosion
Jumping on the opportunity to sign the world champion (Boucher ended the season with a one-to-one title-to-minutes-played ratio), the Toronto Raptors offered Boucher a two-way contract following his performance with the team in Summer League.
And to say his G League play has improved would be a hilarious understatement.
Through 14 games with Raptors 905, Toronto’s affiliate, Boucher leads the G League with 29.6 points per game. He’s gobbling up 11.6 rebounds per contest, and swatting a whopping 4.6 shots per game. He’s shooting 60.0% on twos, 34.0% on threes, and 77.5% on free throws, for a very nice 61.6% true-shooting percentage. All things considered, he’s been nothing short of dominant.
And he passes the eye test as well; in addition to looking bigger and stronger than in his rookie season, Boucher has displayed a strong feel for the game, with comfort handling the ball and rolling to the rim, and excellent instincts defensively.
So, should the Warriors have kept him?
For as dynamic as Boucher has been against lesser competition, the Raptors still haven’t felt the need to give him extended play at the highest level, and perhaps that says something. Boucher has appeared in just four games this season, and played a mere 14 minutes (though in those 14 minutes he has 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks).
On the one hand, Toronto would likely want to see an extended look at Boucher if they thought he was ready to contribute. On the other hand, they started the season with four proven bigs on their roster, so they can afford to slow play him.
The Warriors, however, did no such thing. Golden State started the season with, at best, one proven big. DeMarcus Cousins was injured. Jordan Bell was erratic. Damian Jones had played 174 career minutes. Only Kevon Looney - who isn’t exactly a known quantity - represented anything resembling safety and consistency at the center position.
Could they have used the Boucher depth more than the depth of Derrickson (who has only played 19 minutes)? Given the versatility and veteran qualities of the Warriors wings, and the season-ending injury that Jones suffered, you could strongly make that case. Golden State has only two traditional bigs currently ready to play. They sure could use a third.
The verdict is coming soon
When the Raptors were in town to play the Warriors last week, Boucher didn’t play. But something happened that will result in Boucher playing: Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas dislocated his thumb, and will be out for at least a month.
Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas underwent surgery on dislocated left thumb. He will be out at least four weeks.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 13, 2018
It seems likely that this will result in more opportunities for Boucher. Which means we may soon know whether the Warriors made a mistake letting him go; or we may be reminded that the G League isn’t the NBA, and realize that Boucher is not worth losing sleep over.
It’s certainly something to keep an eye on.