The Toronto Raptors have had a gaping hole in the frontcourt for the entire season, and it’s been no secret to anybody involved in the Raptors organization. Nick Nurse has spoken in frustration about the roster imbalance several times, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have each been questioned regarding their plans to fill the void at the center position following the mysterious waiving of Alex Len, and pretty much everybody on Twitter has reached an ever-elevating point of cluelessness with every big man who signs with an NBA team that isn’t the Raptors.
Alas, the land of the maple tree is adding a bark of birch to its forest.
Yesterday morning, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Orlando Magic – who are in the midst of a harsh retooling phase – are planning to waive Khem Birch. Charania added that the 28-year-old Canadian big man intends to sign with his home-country Toronto Raptors upon clearing waivers.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor also shared that Birch has had his eyes and his heart set on playing for the Raptors for several weeks, dating back to before the trade deadline. “He’s Canadian, he wants to play at home next season, and this feels like his free agency,” O’Connor said.
In 48 games this season with Orlando, Birch is averaging 5.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game. While he brings another strong and formidable body for Nurse to use at his disposal, and hopefully avoid putting any more wear and tear on OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam by attempting to match them up with seven-footers in the middle, Birch certainly is not a player who can come in and fix all of the Raptors’ issues.
Like Aron Baynes, Birch is a non-threat from beyond the arc, shooting only 19.0% from deep on less than one attempt per every two games. That means driving lanes are still going to be crowded for Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry. Birch’s offensive game is limited to catches and finishes at the rim, with 74.2% of his shots going up after 0 dribbles, and 72.2% of his looks coming within ten feet of the rim.
Standing at 6’9 with a broad frame, he does project to be a solid screen setter in Toronto, playing with such dynamic pick-and-roll guards like Lowry and VanVleet.
Overall, Birch is not a very exciting player. He certainly doesn’t move the needle for the Raptors, and his stats don’t jump off the page. What fans should be excited about however, is his defense – at leastwith the standards that Baynes has set for Raptors fans.
Birch is a much more switchable defender than Baynes, and while he should not be expected to keep up with guards on the perimeter, he will happily accept the challenge and won’t dance like Cinderella when he sees a crossover. He is much quicker laterally, he is a far better leaper, and his positioning on that end of the floor is superior. He won’t come in looking like Bill Russell, but he’s an improvement, and that’s all you need when there are only 20 games left in the season.
Birch is set to clear waivers tomorrow at 5:00 PM Eastern Time, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. Even if he signs with Toronto right at 5:01, it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready to go for tomorrow night’s contest, however he will almost certainly get a look in the rotation on Sunday.
The Raptors really have nothing to lose at this point – hence why they’re being forced to make this signing in the first place.