The Toronto Raptors might’ve assumed that Khem Birch was good enough to be the starting center when they added the native Canadian after his buyout with the Orlando Magic, but there was no way to prove that, as his situation in Orlando was not ideal in terms of letting his multitude of talents flourish.
Regardless, the Raptors added him after his buyout with the physical big being viewed as superior to Aron Baynes due to the fact he can roll to the basket, set tough screens, and rebound. He’s been doing exactly that since moving into the starting lineup, averaging 10.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game since April 13.
Kyle Lowry has been a huge fan of the Birch addition, remarking on how much easier it has become to score in the low post due to the chemistry he has formed with the new arrival. Lowry’s motivation for hooking up with Birch frequently is a simple one. He just wants him to get paid.
Lowry and Nick Nurse have helped make Birch an indispensable part of this rotation. Toronto has a +11.6 net rating when Birch is on the floor, which would be a better mark than the league-best +9.26 mark the Utah Jazz have. When he is off the floor, the Raptors have a -10 net rating, also worse than the -9.37 tally the Oklahoma City Thunder have.
Khem Birch is exactly what the Toronto Raptors needed.
A return to Toronto still is not guaranteed for Birch. The Raptors will be one of a select handful of teams next year that actually have tons of cap space this year, and the best way to allocate said cap space could be to add one of the better free agency centers on the market, effectively taking away Birch’s spot as a starter.
If the Raptors either fail to lure a star center, or if they decide that Birch is worth having as a backup, he is worth retaining. He doesn’t offer a ton outside of the paint, but he is being entrusted with more responsibility on both ends of the floor than he was ever afforded in Orlando, and he appears to be passing his tests with flying colors.
Birch might price himself out of a return to Toronto if he keeps playing like this and insists on a starting role elsewhere but the allure of playing in his home country for a Toronto Raptors team that promises to be much more competitive this year could entice him to take slightly less in order to re-up with Nurse.
Birch isn’t going to have the most varied offensive game, but he’s shown an ability to finish the easy looks that Baynes wasn’t able to pull off. Birch is going everything he can to earn himself a nice contract next season, and Toronto should look to retain him as either a cheap starter or quality backup.