Raptors: Khem Birch talks positive COVID-19 test, desire to lead

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors brought back a native Canadian in Khem Birch this offseason, as he earned himself a three-year contract following a very impressive showing after his buyout in Orlando. Birch averaged 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game during his debut season under Nick Nurse.

Birch might not be the best shooter at this moment in time, but the Raptors need some thunder down in the post to compliment their positionless style of basketball, meaning that Birch will be counted on to secure rebounds and protect the rim against some quality nightly competition.

Birch hasn’t made his 2021 debut just yet, as he has been barred from on-court activity due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The UNLV alum confirmed that he and his family were ravaged by the virus and that the positive tests inhibited his return to the court.

Birch confirmed that he, his wife, and his daughter all tested positive for COVID-19. While his daughter was asymptomatic, Birch lost his sense of smell and felt “fatigued” while his wife lost both smell and taste.

Birch, who praised the COVID-19 vaccine for limiting the symptoms and preventing a catastrophic illness, has been activated for Toronto’s matchup against the Houston Rockets tonight. Raptors fans will finally get to welcome their potential starting center back to Toronto.

Can Toronto Raptors count on Khem Birch?

Birch isn’t coming into the season as the undisputed starter, as Precious Achiuwa had been a monster in the preseason in No. 24’s absence. Achiuwa has averaged 12.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.7 steals per game, as he is providing a younger, more athletic counterpart to a more traditional center in Birch.

Still, Birch has been expanding his game, as he shot 3-pointers at a higher rate in Toronto than he ever did in Orlando. If he proves that his production last year was not a mirage, he could make that $20 million contract look like a bargain.

Birch was quoted as saying that he wants to be a leader on this team, and that means accepting a role as either a starter or reserve. If Achiuwa keeps impressing, there is a chance that Birch comes off the bench, using his girth and soft touch inside to help Toronto stay afloat without the starters in the game.

The Raptors are all-in on their positionless, smaller approach to the game, but in a conference full of elite interior players, they will need a savvy vet like Birch to come in, secure the paint, and finish off some dishes from Scottie Barnes inside the arc.

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