Center Khem Birch has expanded his game since joining the Raptors and will likely be a priority for the team in free agency, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Birch, who signed with Toronto after being waived by the Magic last month, said the coaching staff has given him a green light to try new things.
“Coach (Nick) Nurse told me today to work on my ball-handling and to go coast-to-coast or even just be a threat in transition,” Birch said. “So it’s stuff I’ve worked on but I’ve never implemented it into my game. But the fact that the coaching staff here allows me to do that type of stuff, you’re right, it is like starting over again.”
Birch has taken over as the Raptors’ starting center and is averaging career highs in points (10.8 per game), rebounds (7.3) and assists (1.4). The 28-year-old was making $3MM this season with Orlando and should be in line for a sizable raise this summer.
“I didn’t expect this much freedom,” Birch said. “Honestly, I just thought I was just going to protect the rim, get rebounds and everything else. I wasn’t expecting this kind of freedom now. I was kind of expecting it maybe next season or something like that, but not right now.”
There’s more from the Atlantic Division:
- Raptors swingman Gary Trent Jr. will miss both games this weekend, but the team hopes to have him back Tuesday or Thursday, tweets Blake Murphy of The Athletic. Trent hasn’t played in a week because of a bruised left leg.
- George Hill is making a difference for the Sixers as a ball-handler and veteran presence off the bench, according to Ky Carlin of USA Today’s Sixers Wire. Philadelphia had to wait for Hill, who was acquired at the trade deadline but was unavailable until Monday because of a sprained right thumb. “Having George is just another vet who can really just talk to the guards and explain certain plays, offense and defense,” Dwight Howard said. “How to defend, how to get set up in pick-and-rolls, and get our offense going, and what plays we want to run and stuff like that.”
- Nets coach Steve Nash told reporters Friday that he’s not sure if James Harden will play any more during the regular season, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Harden has missed the past 13 games with a strained right hamstring and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back soon. “I just don’t want to make a guess one side or the other because I don’t think it serves anyone, because it’s out of our control,” Nash said. “We’re really waiting to see how he responds and how he heals and how quickly he gets there and then how quickly can he handle high-intensity, NBA-level work. I’ll have to say we’ll see. But both are possible.”