Toronto Raptors

Khem Birch is proving to be just what the Toronto Raptors needed

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Khem Birch (NBA Getty Images)

Heading into this season's trade deadline, it was no secret that the Toronto Raptors were in need of an upgrade at centre.

While they didn't acquire a centre via trade, the Raptors picked up one on the buyout market in Khem Birch, who had been released by the Orlando Magic.

The big man has now appeared in 10 games with Toronto, eight of which he's started in. In 28.1 minutes per game, he's averaging 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, all of which are the highest marks of his career.

For more on his fit, let's take a closer look at what we've seen from Birch so far.

An athletic finisher

Birch's size and athleticism has been a much-welcomed addition to the roster.

Standing at 6-foot-9, Birch is listed at the same height as Chris Boucher, but he's a solid 33 pounds heavier. Aron Baynes is bigger than both of them, but he isn't nearly the same calibre of athlete.

Birch puts those physical tools to best use as a roller and cutter. According to NBA.com, he's generated more than a quarter (27.2 percent) of his offence as the roll man out of the pick-and-roll since joining the Raptors. He's been highly efficient, ranking in the 84th percentile with an average of 1.32 points per possession.

Not only can Birch play above the rim...

...he has a soft touch around the basket.

He even has a little push shot in his arsenal that comes in handy against teams that play a drop coverage.

Birch is an effective cutter for the same reasons. He also has a good sense of where to position himself and when to cut to make himself available for dump off passes around the basket.

Birch doesn't create much offence for himself or others, but that shouldn't be a problem as long as he's playing with the likes of Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Being on a team that already has a number of playmakers should allow him to continue focusing on filling in the gaps.

It's a role Birch seems to be embracing.

"This is the easiest 14 points I've ever had in my career," he said following Toronto's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

One thing to keep an eye on the rest of the season: Birch's growth as a jump shooter. He's missed 10 of the 16 shots he's attempted outside of the paint with the Raptors, but he has a good enough form to believe that he could develop into a capable shooter.

A much-needed rebounder

The Raptors have had a lot more success on the glass since acquiring Birch.

Like, a lot.

Whereas they had the third-worst (.710) defensive rebounding percentage in the league prior to signing Birch, the Raptors have the league's 15th-ranked (.750) defensive rebounding percentage in the 10 games since. They've even been a completely different team with him on the court in those games, with their defensive rebounding percentage plummeting from 78.1 percent to 68.4 percent with Birch on the bench.

For context, that's the difference between the Raptors being the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA by a mile and the worst.

Birch has been a factor on the offensive glass with the Raptors as well. In Toronto's recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets, he recorded nine offensive rebounds. In the eight games prior, he averaged 2.5 offensive rebounds, which would be the highest mark on the Raptors on the season.

Those offensive rebounds have been a big source of offence for Birch, with 14.1 percent of his scoring with the Raptors coming off of putbacks.

A versatile defender

Birch isn't only a rebounder on defence.

First and foremost, he's been a presence in the paint for the Raptors to the tune of 1.4 blocks per game. He's also been an effective deterrent, holding opponents to a stingy 47.6 percent shooting within six feet of the basket.

What Birch lacks in height compared to some other centres - he's on the smaller size for the position at 6-foot-9 - he makes up for in length with a 7-foot wingspan.

Two, Birch moves well enough to extend himself out to the perimeter. He might not be as switchy as Boucher, but he's nimble enough to switch onto perimeter players when needed.

Basically, Birch is a happy medium between Baynes and Boucher, giving the Raptors some size at centre without sacrificing versatility.

It helps that Birch is already familiar with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse's concepts, having played for Team Canada at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

"I'm kinda lucky because I played Team Canada with Coach Nurse like two years ago," Birch said. "It's basically like the same concepts and also it's like a common-sense defence and freedom on offence. As long as you play good defence, you get to do kinda whatever you want on offence. So as long as you play hard and use common sense, I think that kinda translates."

The numbers

To get an idea of the impact Birch has made, the Raptors are scoring at a rate of 117.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the court over the last 10 games. With him on the bench, they're averaging only 100.0 points per 100 possessions.

Similar deal on defence: Toronto is holding opponents to 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Birch on the court compared to 112.5 without him.

That's ... quite the swing.

Toronto has been a different team with Birch
Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
With Birch on court 117.0 106.2 10.8
With Birch on bench 100.0 112.5 -12.5

We're still working with some small sample sizes and the on/off numbers can be noisy, so I wouldn't put too much stock into those numbers, but it's an encouraging start to what the Raptors are probably hoping is a long-term partnership.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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