The Situation at Centre

As details have continued to surface, fans have become increasingly critical of the Raptors’ free agency handling of Serge Ibaka. By opting to reserve a max-contract slot, Toronto has clearly prioritized landing a star player in the loaded 2021 free agency class. Marc Gasol also signed with the Lakers for the veteran minimum, but I will not pretend to be upset about that.

With the house cleared at centre, Toronto immediately made a splash inking Aron Baynes to a 2-year $14.3M contract. This was followed-up by the addition of fellow big-man Alex Len, signing a 1-year contract worth $2.3M. Lastly, the Raptors delivered a much deserved pay-day to Canadian Chris Boucher, who is retained over the next two seasons for $13.5M. Small forward DeAndre Bembry also signed for 2-years at $4M, but this article will focus on the drastic changes at centre.

  

Alex Len - 7'0" 250lbs

When it comes to the starting line-up, I think Coach Nurse starts Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher will be receiving secondary minutes. Len will have to initially prove his worth as the third-string, but I anticipate Toronto extracts decent value out of the former lottery pick. Expectations of him should be reasonably low, as he only averaged 8.0 PPG and 5.8 RPB over 17.6 MPG last season with the Sacramento Kings.

Yet his 7-foot presence is much needed on Toronto’s roster, and for the first time in his career, he will get to play within a good defensive system. Len can ideally provide the Raptors with some of what Daniel Theis brings to the Celtics; paint presence, rim finishing, and rebounding. That may be an unrealistic ceiling for him, but Len posses a similar skill-set and still shows room for development at 27-years-old. He's a logical and cheap solution for next season, but even with marked improvement, I suspect he remains third on Toronto’s big-man depth chart.

 

Aron Baynes - 6'10" 260lbs

Baynes and the Phoenix Suns finished last season scorching, including a career high 37-point effort from the big who connected on nine three-pointers. That was a rare monster performance, but he still averages a solid 11.5 PPG and 5.6 RPG while converting on 35% of his 4.0 three-pointers attempted per game.

He doesn’t have the smooth in-between game of Ibaka, but at least Baynes provides the Raptors with similar floor spacing and size. Long-time fans of Toronto can recall tough battles between Baynes and JV, as both players showcased a competitive edge. Although he’s never averaged 1.0 BPG, Baynes is regarded as a strong defender whose relatively mobile at his position.

Last season was a massive leap for him, and I expect the Raptors’ development staff to only push his current positive trajectory. Baynes won’t be stealing games for us like Serge, but he is poised to steadily contribute as a starter or bench player. Additionally, his personality should mesh well with the group, as the veteran Aussie is light-hearted and plays hard for his teammates. I believe Baynes is likely to start the season, but he will need to regularly match internal competition from Chris Boucher for minutes.

 

Chris Boucher - 6'9" 215lbs

Aside from retaining Fred, this was my favourite Raptors signing of free agency, and it was equally well deserved for the player. When announcing his contract, the team attached the following statement; “Time to show the world what we already know.”

That gave me goosebumps, as fans have watched Boucher consistently prove himself despite playing behind a veteran-logged frontcourt. He has fully earned his stripes; winning 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and MVP accolades in the G-League. Additionally, Boucher recorded promising averages of 6.6 PPG, 4.5 RBG and 1.0 BPG in a very limited 13.2 MPG this past season. As a result, his per 36-mins stat projections are off the charts at 18.1 PPG, 12.2 RPG with a monster 2.7 BPG.

Simply put, he’s been doing a lot with a little. Boucher has passed the ‘eye-test’ since stepping on the court in Toronto, as he plays both ends with energy and conviction. Even when tossed on for blow-out garbage minutes, he always finds a way to electrify with a dunk or guttsy three-pointer. Inversely, Boucher is capable of rising to the challenge with top-end talent; as two of his best games this season came against the Bucks and Lakers.

I expect him to be nipping at the heels of Aron Baynes all season, and perhaps achieve a starting promotion at some point. The underdog story of Chris Boucher is finally taking its turn, as untimely injuries delayed his initial emergence into the league. The Raptors found a hidden gem with him, and I expect Boucher to gain some league-wide recognition this year. 

 

 

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