Khem Birch is a free agent this off-season, but there should be no doubt that he will return to the Toronto Raptors when all is said and done.
28-year-old Khem Birch joined the Toronto Raptors after being waived by and agreeing to a buyout from the Orlando Magic earlier in the 2020/21 season, joining a team that were in desperate need of help at the centre position.
Players such as Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher rotated in the 5 position but did not fill the void left by Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol – both of whom played key roles in the Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship victory.
While no trades were made to add to the position, despite rumours of interest in Andre Drummond, the Raptors landed Birch when he became a free agent and things have gone perfectly for both sides.
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Birch has found his feet since joining the Raptors down in Tampa, playing the best basketball of his professional career to date – being given far more responsibility than at any time previously in his four years in the NBA.
While averaging 29.4 minutes per game, a full ten minute more than his previous single-season high, Birch has put up career numbers in virtually every category imaginable.
He is averaging 11.5 points while throwing .569 on all field goals (.607 on 2-pointers), 7.3 rebounds (4.2 of which are defensive), 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game – all of which are the highest of any season he has played in the league.
It’s clear that the 6-foot-9, 233lbs centre buys into Nick Nurse’s system and has found a clear fit in terms of his skill set, and is yet another bright addition to the team that appears to have a future within the organisation beyond this season.
Freddie Gillespie found himself offered a new standard contract by the Raptors, and Birch has had the biggest impact of any free agent signed to the team this season, so it would be logical for the Raptors to get Birch locked up for the 2021/22 season and possibly even beyond.
The Toronto Raptors will likely explore their options in free agency during the off-season, seeing which centres are available and could be signed to help bolster a core that has the potential to compete at the very top of the league when fully healthy.
Despite that, Birch should still feature as an important piece next season, even if he becomes part of the rotation and provides the team with a strong one-two punch with any new free agent that is targeted, much like Ibaka and Gasol did previously.
In a season with very few bright spots, Birch certainly has been one of them and having him around for longer, having a full off-season to further embed himself within the team’s system, can see him progress beyond the impressive showings he has already had.