Now that the Toronto Raptors and GM Masai Ujiri have shown at least some of their cards ahead of the upcoming NBA Draft following last week’s workouts, we can begin to narrow down the lengthy list of potential prospects who the franchise could select on June 26.
Among those invited, Canadian and former UNLV forward Khem Birch is the most likely hopeful to actually give the Raptors what they’re currently looking for, and should be targeted before fellow Canucks Melvin Ejim and Jordan Bachynski. For those unfamiliar with Birch, the 6-foot-9 forward was forced to follow in the footsteps of many Canadian hoop hopefuls before him and leave his hometown of Montreal for the U.S. while in high school in order to gain the exposure needed to earn an NCAA scholarship.
After being named a McDonald’s High School All-American as a senior and choosing to become a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers, Birch unexpectedly bolted for Las Vegas just 10 games into his freshman campaign. However, he made the most of his time in the desert by winning the Mountain West Defensive Player Of The Year in each of the last two seasons before declaring for the NBA Draft.
Obviously, Birch is a natural shot-blocker evidenced by the 3.8 BLKPG he posted for the Runnin’ Rebels this past season, a quality that Toronto could undoubtedly benefit from with father time currently chasing Amir Johnson. More importantly, while Birch utilized his frame to become a defensively dominant big man in NCAA, his agility, skills on the glass, and ability to run the floor make him a perfect fit as a power forward next to center Jonas Valanciunas, a player who is critical to Toronto’s success going forward.
Ranked 54th and projected to be taken late in the second round by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Birch made much of his offensive money in the paint as a junior, but often struggled to make the most of his opportunities with his back to the basket. He displayed limited footwork, and outside of his talent as a defender, he is clearly a low-post project who the Raptors would have to be patient with.
But Birch did average a double-double with 11.5 PPG and 10.2 RPG in 2013-14 and was honored as an elite defender for a reason, which is what makes him one of the forwards that Toronto needs to target on June 26. Due to his size, potential and skillset, Birch is a more attractive option to many NBA teams than the majority of the rankings indicate, and choosing to hope that he’ll be available at No. 59 is almost guaranteed to result in disappointment.
That would mean Toronto having to risk the 37th overall pick on a player rated much lower, a move that Ujiri and the Raptors are unlikely to make. However, there’s always the possibility of trading up from 59, and if there’s a way to do so without sacrificing too much, Birch could be worth it.
Ty is an NBA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldTy.