Raptors must start Precious Achiuwa and bench Khem Birch

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 01: Precious Achiuwa #5 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 01: Precious Achiuwa #5 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

There hasn’t been much to celebrate for the Toronto Raptors over the last few days, as they were demolished by LaMelo Ball’s Hornets and Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks in consecutive games. Precious Achiuwa did his thing, but role players like Khem Birch were absolutely humiliated.

In both of the last two games, Birch has started due to OG Anunoby’s fractured finger. In 30 minutes between the last two games, Birch totaled just one point on 0-6 shooting and was a -45 when he was on the floor. His season-long per-game averages are worse than what he was amassing in Orlando.

On the flip side, Achiuwa had his best game in the pros, scoring 21 points and hauling in nine rebounds. With some emphatic dunks serving as the only highlights of note in Toronto’s dismal loss, it looks like Achiuwa is becoming a more confident player in the second half.

As long as Anunoby is out, the Raptors need to give Achiuwa an increased minutes load while demoting Birch. Until Khem shows that he can contribute anything of value on the offensive end, riding the Achiuwa roller coaster is best for the team in the short term.

The Toronto Raptors need to play Precious Achiuwa over Khem Birch.

Achiuwa can no doubt be frustrating to watch on offense, as his interior finishing is far beneath that of most starting centers in this league. Even with that caveat, the fact that his 3-point jumper is starting to fall and his hands are starting to improve should be taken as a sign that his offensive development is progressing nicely.

While a good chunk of Birch’s value lies in how he can allegedly provide rim protection in the form of a more traditional center, Achiuwa’s on-ball defense has been surprisingly excellent this season. There’s simply no justification for continuing to lean on Birch when he’s been exposed like this lately.

Birch might have a three-year contract under his belt, but Achiuwa is such a prized commodity that he was the main asset Toronto got back in exchange for franchise legend Kyle Lowry. Masai Ujiri is expecting Achiwua to evolve into a part of this team’s long-term core.

Birch’s per-game numbers this season are worse than we saw from him in Orlando, and Nurse would be unwise to continue promoting a player in a major slump at the moment over Achiuwa. The Nigerian big and Chris Boucher could be an effective 1-2 punch in the paint that gets the Raptors back on track.

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