It's not hard to see why Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse is so fond of Khem Birch.
For one, the Raptors are desperate for some frontcourt help, and at this point in the season Nurse isn't going to be too picky. He's tried essentially anyone with any reasonable amount of size at that position and it's led to a 21-32 record and some abysmal defensive rebounding numbers. So in that sense, the 6-foot-9, 233 pound Birch should help.
But there's also Birch's history with Nurse. About a year and a half ago, shortly after Nurse clinched the Larry O'Brien Trophy with the Raptors, Nurse hopped on a flight for China to coach the Canadian men's national team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. It was there under Nurse's tutelage that Birch played some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 11.6 points and seven rebounds in five games for Team Canada.
"I like him," Nurse said as he tried to play coy, unable to fully comment on Birch's play because the signing had yet to be made official. "He did a good job for us and I think that's probably all I can say at this particular point."
After Saturday night's drubbing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Nurse was finally able to comment on the newest member of the organization.
"I think he's a guy that could become a quality backup big man in this league," Nurse said. "[He's] got some length and got some athleticism and some shot-blocking and some rebounding. I'm excited to have him and hopefully [we] can help him develop."
It'll be interesting to see how Birch is used over the final 19 games of the season before he heads to free agency this summer. The goal for him will certainly be to progress in Toronto's system and work with Nurse to help re-establish his market when the season ends. For Toronto, it'll be an opportunity to get a peek at a 28-year-old who could be a reliable big man off the bench, as Nurse said.
Right now, the Raptors have two of those guys in Chris Boucher and now Birch who are both better suited for backup big man minutes. The problem for Toronto this year has been Aron Baynes' lack of production that has forced the team to bump Boucher into the starting lineup. Ideally, things will look very different next season.
The Raptors already have Boucher under contract for next year and if things go well over the final month with Birch it's quite possible Toronto can cobble together a backup frontcourt with the two Montreal natives. The tough part will be finding a reliable starting centre who can lead that group going forward. While it might seem as though the Raptors frontcourt rotation is a mess right now, with Birch now in-house and Boucher locked up, it's just a matter of finding a starting centre to solidify things going forward. That, however, might be easier said than done.