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Khem Birch wide shot

Shot Blockers, Guards And Canadians At Raptors Workout

At the third day of pre-draft workouts in Toronto, the Raptors looked at some prolific shot blockers, a couple of high scoring athletic guards and a pair of Canadians.  Montreal’s Khem Birch and Toronto’s Melvin Ejim were the featured players, but as Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman was quick to remind everyone, all the players they are bringing in are ones that they have a genuine interest in meeting before the draft.

The Raptors seemed pretty enthusiastic about the two Canadians who could be second round draft picks.


“It was a great workout today,” Tolzman said. “As you know, we had a couple of Canadian kids in and they played really well. They showed what’s intriguing about them. Khem (Birch), he is so athletic and he’s got the length and the shot blocking and the rebounding. He is an intriguing player because he is the type of player that the NBA is going to more – athletic, nimble types of bigs and he is right in that group. Melvin (Ejim), he is another guy that is intriguing because he plays so hard defensively. He was kind of stuck as a four man his whole college career and now he is proving he can be a perimeter player. We are intrigued by that as well – the fact that he is a defensive guy that rebounds the ball well and can add a little bit of the perimeter shooting – just the intensity he brings is (at) an NBA level.”

Birch was a junior at UNLV who saw his production increase dramatically over his three college seasons to a double-double with 3.8 blocks per game last season – A 50 percent increase in minutes leading to a doubling in rebounds collected from his sophomore to junior season. Ejim was always a good scorer and rebounder with Iowa State, but as a senior, his scoring jumped from 11.3 points per game as a junior to 17.8, a 57.5 percent increase on only 4.5 (16 percent) more minutes. Also, he almost doubled his three-point attempts to 127 while maintaining his average (34.6 percent).

“You like to see players that are stair-stepping towards (us when) we get them because that’s a natural trajectory that you want to see,” Tolzman said. “A lot of times in college that comes with the minutes that they get, but in addition to that, if they can do the per minute analytics that shows it’s not just a matter of them getting more minutes with the production if they are putting great numbers per minute compared to what they did – that they are improving as players, their three-point percentage are improving just like Melvin’s did every year. I think guys like that, that’s the progression you want to see because when we get them, we expect that same thing because as a rookie they are always going to struggle just getting used to the number of games, the physicality of the game and I think that we would expect the same type of hard work progression to make yourself a better player and I think Melvin proved that that’s the type of guy he is.”

Both Birch and Ejim could be classified as tweeners. Birch stuck between the four and the five, Ejim as between a three and a four. However, Tolzman suggests tweener isn’t the dirty word it used to be.

“Guys still get characterized as tweeners,” Tolzman said. “It is just a way to kind of group guys together to see what they do, but I think you now look at players that are versatile enough to guard multiple positions. It is almost a positive in today’s game because you want the flexibility if a team goes big against you, you have the ability to just shift guys over and keep your best players out there.”

Both of the Canadians were at the workouts today because of their potential fit with Head Coach Dwane Casey’s defense.

“That’s the main reason why we are taking a look at them,” Tolzman said. “Coach Casey was here and he absolutely has some input on the type of guy that we look to bring in. That’s why Melvin and Khem are both on our board because they are defense-first type players and anything they can give us in addition to that would be icing on the cake. Because of the style of Coach Casey, we kind of gravitate towards players that fit into that naturally and Melvin is a powerful defender on the wing and that goes a long way in the NBA.”

The Raptors also brought 6’7 senior Niels Giffey was a prolific three-point shooter with Connecticut who shot 48.3 percent from deep last season and 7’1 senior Alec Brown from Wisconsin-Green Bay who averaged 15.3 points and 2.8 blocks last year. Casey is known for liking shooters, however, Toronto has already brought in some of the best shot blockers from college to have a look at.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a priority, but it’s definitely something – I don’t want to say we lack – but we could have used – we can use,” Tolzman said. “Jonas (Valanciunas) is not a shot blocker, but he protects the rim, the same with all of our other bigs. Our second line guys, we don’t have a big time rim protector out there and I wouldn’t say it’s a priority, but it’s a roster need for sure.”

Toronto also brought in some more high flying point guard prospects to have a look at. 5’9 Massachusetts senior Chaz Williams is known for his skills court vision and ball-handling, unfortunately he was injured and couldn’t workout. 6’1 Nevada senior Deonte Burton averaged over 20 points per game last year.

“Unfortunately Chaz came up injured,” Tolzman said. “It seems that every day it’s something. He tweaked his hamstring. It’s nothing major, but we didn’t want to push him too hard. He is a super hard worker and just the perfect type guy for this setting because he’s a great positive player and gets everyone else into it.

“Deonte, he is one of those smaller school – the type of guy, he didn’t get as much pub as other guys, but he has been producing for the last four years and I can’t tell you how many times I have seen him live since his freshman year and he has always been a really impressive offensive player and you could always see that he has an NBA style to his game that has a good chance of translating.”

While the Raptors are certainly looking at a pile of potential second round point guard prospects, Tolzman’s enthusiasm for the two Canadian players today was obvious. Both Birch and Ejim are well-spoken and give off some of that vibe felt in the Raptors locker room last season. They are worth keeping an eye on at the Draft.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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