Picked up off of the waiver wire last April, Birch was thrown in instantly to help support a perilously thin front line and averaged 30.4 minutes across 19 games. The 29-year-old Montreal native won’t see that kind of role this season with Achiuwa on board, but the club could certainly use some veteran stability at the position, which is where Birch comes in.
Best Case Scenario
It probably went mostly unnoticed for a team out of the playoff hunt, but Birch was a solid acquisition for the Raptors. He didn’t try to do anything fancy, but still wound up averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 55.6% from the field.
Birch likely won’t reach those stats again this year in what is expected to be a (slightly) reduced role, but he could provide invaluable stability as Achiuwa continues to learn on the job, not to mention mentoring his new teammate. Because the second-year forward still has to adapt to a consistently heavy minutes toll, Birch will still get his minutes.
After all, it’s not like Birch is a greying veteran at the tail end of his career. The Pitt and UNLV alum just signed a three-year, $20 million contract to remain with the Raps. If he can produce in a similar vein to what he delivered after being cut by the Orlando Magic, then that deal will look like a bargain.
Worst Case Scenario
Given the club’s dedication to position-less basketball, Birch’s new contract looks a lot iffier if the power forward can’t gel within a lineup contingent on versatility. Should he struggle to adapt, there could be several consequences.
For one, the three years on his contract might look lengthy. Nurse may want to experiment with different lineups involving some end-of-bench guys as the more expensive Birch sits.
Knowing what you’re getting from Birch means also knowing what you’re not getting. His lack of a three-point shot (24.1% career) means that floor spacing remains an issue while he’s in the lineup. How problematic those limitations prove while he’s on the floor remains to be seen.