It hasn’t been easy for Montreal’s Khem Birch to find minutes as an NBA rookie on an Orlando Magic team that features Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic at center, but as the season winds down, he has been getting his opportunities and he has looked especially strong over the past five games.
“He’s been playing great,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said prior to the team’s game in Toronto. “Every opportunity that he’s gotten to play this year he’s nailed it, just with great energy, great feel for the game offensively even though he’s not a big shooter.
“A post player, he has a little bit limited offensive game, but he hasn’t been a liability because of how well he plays with the pass. He’s very good in a short roll making a target pass, extra pass to the weak side, good decisions. Our bigs become quarterbacks and decision-makers when they get the ball in the pocket like that and he’s done a great job with that.
“He is active all over the court defensively with his hands, deflections, blocked shots and offensively keeping balls alive.
“Him playing overseas the last couple of years was invaluable to his development.”
Birch put up a line of 12 points and 12 rebounds in front of his friends and family in Toronto and has averaged 11 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 22.4 minutes over his last five games. His Mom was in the crowd at the Air Canada Centre.
“My Mom, my Dad, his wife, my brothers, my aunts, uncles, 11, 15 probably,” Birch said would be in Toronto to support him.
“(My Mom) already told me to make matching shirts and stuff. I’m not really a fan of that, but what can you do. You can’t get mad people trying to support you. In the future I’ll look back and just be like wow, people really supported me. Now I’m just going to be embarrassed.”
He had nothing to be embarrassed about on that night.
Birch was in Toronto a couple of years ago for a predraft workout with the Raptors, but even after averaging a double-double at UNLV and blocking 124 shots that season, he wasn’t ready to make the jump to the NBA.
“I was kind of immature back then,” Birch explained. “Now I’m more mature. I’ve been thru a lot since then. These past two years I’ve been thru so much. If I had the same mindset now back then, I probably would have made it (to the NBA).
“A lot of guys take this for granted. I’ve been thru so much, now I know what it takes to make it. Not to take it for granted and to go hard.
“It’s a great experience, it’s a lifelong dream and it’s something on my bucket list (to play) in the NBA. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of wins this year, but I’m blessed to be here.”
If Orlando can figure out their mess of a roster, Birch should be back with the Magic again next season. The 25-year-old rookie has shown himself to be a prospect worth developing.