An Opportunity - Khem Birch
His name alone raises eyebrows, and he plays with the intensity that a name such as Khem Birch commands. Khem Birch, is not the guy who makes national headlines or consistently shows up on highlight reel’s, he isn’t flashy or extremely quick. He is, however, a team player, someone who is willing to put his body on the line to nab a rebound and help his team with incessant effort in desperate moments. Khem’s journey to the NBA has been nothing short of amazing. His journey has shown his perseverance and desire to be a part of a league Full of high flyers and three-point makers.
Birch started his collegiate career during the 2011-2012 season with the Pittsburg Panthers at the University of Pittsburg where he played just 10 games (starting in 6) while averaging 4.4 PPG and 5 Rbs (Sports-Reference CBB). In December of 2011, he decided to call it quits on the Panthers and joined the Runnin’ Rebels at UNLV. According to CBS Pittsburg Birch cited his departure being related to the exit of his head coach and recruiter to Pittsburg, Pat Skerry. However, according to an article by Aron Minkoff for Cardiachill, there were anecdotal accounts of his displeasure with teammates as they did not welcome him into the team and there was supposed tension.
During his next two seasons at UNLV (2012-2014), Birch played over 50 games while starting in 47 of those. His time in Las Vegas was productive as during his two seasons he showed exponential improvement in his ability to score in the paint and showing prowess on the defensive end while nabbing an average of 7.7 Rebs Per Game and 3 Blks Per Game during that time. His future looked promising, and at the end of his Junior year at UNLV Birch decided that he would forego his senior season and would declare for the NBA Draft. The thrill of declaring for the draft and hoping to join an NBA team came crashing as Khem went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. After some Summer League play for the Washington Wizards and a short stint with the Miami heat Birch was waived and his dream of playing in the NBA seemed to have vanished before his very eyes. Little did he know that this would not be the end of his playing career but instead it would set him on a journey that he never expected.
Birch went on to play basketball in Turkey and Greece. During this time he showed consistent effort on defense and rebounding prowess he also averaged 7.3 PPG while playing about 18 MPG. In 2017 he got the call. Khem Birch would be joining the Orlando Magic. Orlando has recently become a team that is willing to give athletes a second shot. Khem would make sure to take advantage of this opportunity. During his first two seasons in Orlando Khem Birch averaged 4.6 PPG 4 RPG and while averaging about 2 shots per game.
In 2019 Birch became a restricted free agent and Orlando quickly extended a qualifying offer for Birch allowing them to match any offer made for Khem by any other team in the NBA. After a couple of stressful, anxiety-filled weeks Orlando reached a deal with Birch 2 Yrs/ $6 Million. Khem has proven to be a hard-nosed guy who will fight for an opportunity and that is what he has done in Orlando.
Many fans seemed confused by the addition of Birch as it seems that Orlando has too many players at the Center position but Birch can play PF. He did average 58% FG during his first two seasons but he has not been a focal point of the offense and the ball rarely found Birch. Most of his points were scored through rebound putbacks and lobs at the rim. During the 2018-2019 season, there were flashes of Birch moving well without the ball and skying for Alley Oops in open court. Undoubtedly if Khem worked on his mid-range shot he’d be more involved in the offense and would be a great addition to the PF rotation playing behind Aaron Gordon. This would alleviate the log jam at the 5 spot with Vucevic starting at Center and Mo Bamba as the back up for the time being.
Khem is more so a Prototypical early 2000s power forward. His play is not flashy but it is physical and productive under the right circumstances. Orlando, a team that since the 2011 season has failed to attract a superstar talent has decided to go a different route. In a league where the other 29 teams are clamoring for offensive firepower, the Orlando Magic choose to go the defensive route, with long tall guys the likes of Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba, Aaron Gordon, and a face that will become familiar this season Khem Birch.
Here is Khem’s best game of 2018-19
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