The Toronto Raptors might not have Khem Birch in the starting lineup, nor did they give up an arm and a leg to sign him to a contract in the offseason, but he has quickly become indispensable in this rotation. This has been confirmed by his recent absence.
Birch hasn’t been active for the last few games against the Nets and Celtics due to some knee swelling. The Raptors have proven they can win games without a traditional starting center, but it still hurts to lose a bench player with Birch’s skillset. On Wednesday, Boston showed exactly how tough losing Birch can be for Toronto.
Not only was Toronto bludgeoned into submission by an ultra-big lineup that featured the likes of Robert Williams and Al Horford, but they were beaten by a Boston team that targeted Pascal Siakam on the defensive end and was more than willing to bang down low for easy points.
While Birch isn’t exactly prime Hakeem Olajuwon in the paint, he has already shown he can come in and solidify the interior. While his injury might not sideline him for very long, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how integral he is to this team’s defensive prowess.
The Toronto Raptors have been struggling without Khem Birch.
The native Canadian signed a three-year, $20 million contract in the offseason to serve as a powerful, experienced counterpart to a player in Precious Achiuwa that is still figuring things out on both ends. Birch has been an elite offensive rebounder that has already made a positive impact on Toronto’s interior defense.
For all the good Siakam does on a nightly basis, he isn’t the most robust big man in the world. With Achiuwa’s unusual, often inefficient style of play being given the minutes Birch normally scoops up, the Raptors were bulldozed in the paint by two of the largest teams in Brooklyn and Boston.
Birch should be back at some point this weekend, and his return couldn’t have come a moment sooner. 6.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game is average offensive production, but given his soft touch around the basket and his ability to contribute without the ball in his hands often, Toronto is worse off when he is unable to play.
Birch has already stated that he cares much more about winning than any sort of statistical accomplishment, and that is proven to be true every time he suits up for Toronto. In an East full of quality bigs, the Raptors will need a veteran like Birch in their ranks.