Yesterday marked the debut of the newest Toronto Raptor, Khem Birch, and to say the least, his performance was pretty good, especially for his first game with the team. In reality, you can’t expect too much from a guy who just joined a new team the day prior, but in my opinion, Khem seemed to do just fine, and he seems like a more than reliable backup center option, especially when comparing him to Aron Baynes. In 18 minutes, he scored four points, and grabbed five rebounds; not a pretty stat-line, but if we are being real, Khem is known for his impact on the court and not his statistics. Unfortunately, his impact is not something that shows up in the box score too often.
Most importantly, from the first game, it was obvious that Khem helps fill the much-needed defensive void at center for the Raptors. When looking at the box score, Khem’s numbers from last night might not look all that impressive, but the box score really doesn’t help justify the impact that he showed that he can have on this team. Although Khem did not record any defensive statistics such as steals or blocks, his presence was definitely felt under the basket. On numerous occasions, he contested shots which resulted in a missed field goal, and he was also very active and mobile on the defensive end, something that is very important at the center position for the Raptors, especially when they are facing dynamic players such as Julius Randle, who often score the majority of their buckets in and around the paint. Although we didn’t get to see it in this game too much, Khem also has very quick feet, and this allows him to switch onto smaller guards in the pick-and-roll. These are the situations in which he has acquired a decent percentage of his blocks throughout the years. Throughout his career, Khem has been known for his defense, and from his 18 minutes of play yesterday, it is evident that he will provide the Raptors with stellar defense at the center position, something that was desperately needed prior to his arrival.
Khem’s energy on the floor was also greatly felt, and it seemed like that whenever he was on the floor, the energy of the team increased. He showed great energy a couple of times when running the floor, and this is something that is very important at the center position for the Raptors. In the past, it seemed like whenever Boucher was off the floor, the Raptors didn’t have a true center who would hustle up and down the court. Often, a center who runs the floor helps get easy transition buckets on the other end, and the transition game is something that is very important to the Toronto Raptors offense. Khem’s energy on the boards (rebounding) was also impressive, and if you watch him play, he is constantly fighting underneath the basket to grab rebounds, something that the Raptors have needed in their centers this whole season, as rebounding has been their biggest downfall. On one occasion, he even fought off multiple defenders under the basket to grab an offensive rebound, and on this play, he ended up scoring on a putback layup.
On the offensive end, Khem isn’t as talented as someone like Boucher, but he is acceptable. Although he does not shoot the three well, he is strong around the basket and can convert dunks and layups at a very high percentage, something that Aaron Baynes doesn’t seem to do very well. He also sets very good screens, and this was evident in many situations when he was on the court last night, especially with Kyle Lowry. On a couple of occasions, Kyle was able to get an open shot because of Khem’s outstanding screens. He can also play the pick-and-roll well, as we saw in last night’s game. On one play, he screened Lowry’s defender, rolled to the bucket, and made a tough driving layup over Nerlens Noel, who is a pretty stellar defender, just like Khem.
In conclusion, although it might have seemed anti-tank to acquire Khem Birch off of waivers, I think it is very important that the Raptors now have the option to at least lock up an above-average backup center for the future, and with Khem’s outspoken love for Toronto, it seems like this will be the case. He even said himself that this was his free agency, so it seems pretty obvious that at this point, he plans to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors. As for the rest of the season, he is able to either start or come off the bench at the center position for the Raptors. Either way, he will most likely play a good chunk of the center minutes, especially when the Raptors need a physical presence in the middle against players such as Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, just to name a few. Most importantly, he brings outstanding defense and rebounding to the team, two weaknesses that have resulted in the Raptors holding a 21-33 record so far this year, and as of now, unlikely to even make the play-in tournament. Although in the end, the play-in tournament is something that many fans of the Toronto Raptors hope they avoid, in hopes of acquiring a stud in this year’s draft.