Khem Birch

Khem Birch Signs With Spanish Team

Khem Birch has returned to the EuroLeague after six NBA seasons, signing with Basquet Girona in Spain, according to Cesare Milanti of Eurohoops. The team officially announced the deal in a press release.

The 31-year-old center has been searching for his next opportunity since being waived by the Spurs in October prior to the start of the regular season. He reportedly talked with Reyer Venezia in December, but wasn’t able to reach a deal with the Italian team.

Birch played six years in the NBA with the Magic and Raptors. He appeared in 20 games for Toronto last season, all as a backup, averaging 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per night. He was sent to San Antonio last February as part of the Jakob Poeltl trade, but never saw any action with the Spurs due in part to a right knee issue.

After going undrafted out of UNLV in 2014, Birch played one season in the G League, then spent time with teams in Turkey and Greece. He signed with Orlando in 2017 and joined the Raptors after being waived in 2021.

Basquet Girona was founded by Marc Gasol and competes in Liga ACB.

And-Ones: 2024 Draft, Birch, Expansion, Tournament

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic has published his big board for the 2024 NBA draft, while Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo of (Insider link) have shared their top 25 prospects in next year’s draft class. USC guard Isaiah Collier sits atop both lists, but beyond that there are plenty of differences, starting with Vecenie placing Serbian point guard Nikola Topic at No. 2 on his board (he’s ninth at ESPN).

Vecenie is also significantly higher on Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard than ESPN’s duo is, calling him the best freshman in college basketball so far this season and ranking him sixth overall. Givony and Woo have Sheppard at No. 22.

Still, this year’s group of NCAA prospects doesn’t look especially strong at this point, according to Vecenie, who notes that 11 of the top 33 players on his board are either playing overseas or for the G League Ignite.

Even Collier, the top player on The Athletic’s board, comes with some major question marks and holds the top spot somewhat by default. While Vecenie believes the USC guard is the highest-upside prospect in the 2024 class for now, he says Collier wouldn’t have cracked his top eight prospects in the 2023 draft.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Veteran NBA center Khem Birch, who was waived by San Antonio during the preseason, is said to be drawing interest from Italian club Reyer Venezia, according to reports from Alessandro Maggi of Sportando and Luca D’Alessandro (Twitter link). Birch played in Turkey and Greece from 2015-17 before breaking into the NBA, so if he does head overseas, it wouldn’t be his first professional experience in Europe.
  • With NBA commissioner Adam Silver once again addressing the idea of expansion this week, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a closer look at where things stand, evaluating how likely the league is to add more teams after its next media deal and discussing which cities have the strongest cases for an expansion franchise.
  • Howard Beck of The Ringer explores the origins of the idea for the NBA’s in-season tournament and details how it eventually come to fruition before considering whether or not the event will have staying power.

Spurs Waive Khem Birch

1:15pm: Birch has officially been waived, the Spurs announced in a press release.

10:09am: Center Khem Birch will be waived by the Spurs, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Birch was part of the return San Antonio received when it traded Jakob Poeltl to Toronto in February. He never appeared in a game for the Spurs, as a right knee issue sidelined him for the rest of the season.

With 16 fully guaranteed contracts, San Antonio had to get rid of at least one of them before Monday’s league-wide cutdown date. Unless Birch gets claimed on waivers, the team will be on the hook for all of his $6,985,000 expiring deal.

The 31-year-old big man appeared in 20 games for Toronto last season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per night. He went undrafted out of UNLV in 2014 and played six NBA seasons with the Magic and Raptors.

Once the move is finalized, the Spurs will have 18 players on their preseason roster with one two-way spot open.

Spurs Notes: Vassell, Defense, Jones, Birch, Bassey

Spurs guard Devin Vassell recently signed a five-year, $135MM+ rookie scale extension. As Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News writes in a subscriber-only story, Vassell’s contract is the largest in team history.

While some may have been surprised by the price tag, his teammates say Vassell doesn’t get enough recognition.

If you really watch the league, the players in this league, the coaches, they all respect Devin,” said second-year forward Jeremy Sochan. “I feel like he is underrated, but he is a special player, too.”

After being limited to 38 games in 2022/23 due to a knee injury, Vassell spent the offseason focused on weight training to improve his conditioning and withstand the rigors of an 82-game schedule. Vassell thinks the added muscle will help improve his finishing at the basket as well, according to McDonald.

Head coach Gregg Popovich believes Vassell is on the right track, both now and going forward.

He wants to prove himself, both as a player and a leader,” Popovich said. “He has already taken some big steps.”

For his part, the 23-year-old wing says he’s focused on helping the Spurs reclaim their status as a perennial playoff team and bringing a sixth championship to San Antonio.

This is where I want to be,” Vassell said, per McDonald. “Now all I am trying to do is win, get championships and put some more banners up there.”

Here’s more from San Antonio:

  • No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama has made an instant impact in training camp with his defense, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscriber link). “I came off a handoff and thought I had a wide-open three,” said forward Doug McDermott. “All of a sudden an arm comes out of nowhere and takes the ball. He’s pretty special. He’s going to dominate on that end of the floor.” Still, after finishing with the worst defense in NBA history last season, the Spurs know they can’t just rely on their prized rookie to lift them up. As Orsborn writes, Keldon Johnson struggled defensively in 2022/23, but he believes he has become an “elite defender” this offseason. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot this summer,” Johnson said. “I put a lot of hard work and time into my body and my craft in basketball. So, I’m ready. I’m excited to prove all the doubters wrong.”
  • Point guard Tre Jones, who signed a two-year, $19MM+ deal in free agency to return to the Spurs, started 65 of his 68 games last season. However, Popovich was noncommittal when asked if Jones will start in 2023/24, tweets Orsborn. “We haven’t made any decisions on who is where,” Popovich said.
  • Even after waiving Cameron Payne and Reggie Bullock, the Spurs are still facing a roster crunch, with 16 players on guaranteed contracts. Two players who might be battling for the final roster spot are centers Khem Birch and Charles Bassey, who both dealt with knee injuries last season. According to Orsborn, Popovich said the two big men have been full participants in practices thus far (Twitter link).

Western Notes: Doncic, Tenzer, Watson, McGee, Len, Spurs

Luka Doncic isn’t doing himself any favors with his constant complaining to the officials, Tim Cato of The Athletic writes. The Mavericks superstar was tossed from Slovenia’s quarterfinal loss to Canada in the FIBA World Cup. Doncic’s technical fouls in the NBA have risen in each of his five seasons. Cato notes. Doncic has publicly acknowledged over the years he needs to pipe down, but his actions haven’t reflected it. He’s a master at drawing contact but complaining about non-calls serves no useful purpose, as Cato writes.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Nuggets’ new G League general manager, Ben Tenzer, believes forward Peyton Watson will blossom in his second NBA season, he told Bennett Durando of the Denver Post. “(He) has all the potential in the world. I think it starts with his defense and his energy,” Tenzer said. “He’s such a unique player with his size and his ability to cover the court. His shot-blocking ability. I think we were able to see it a little bit when he played with the Nuggets toward the end of the season, how good he can be. So I think for him it starts with the defensive side. The offensive side will come because of his natural ability to be able to handle and attack the rim.”
  • Alex Len and JaVale McGee are expected to make the Kings’ opening night roster and compete for backup minutes at center, James Ham of tweets. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering they both have guaranteed contracts. That also means Neemias Queta and Nerlens Noel, who have partially guaranteed deals, will essentially be competing for the final roster spot, assuming Sacramento decides to carry 15 players.
  • The Spurs have 18 players on guaranteed or partially guaranteed deals. So who will be the odd men out? The Athletic’s John Hollinger and Kelly Iko explore that, plus other Spurs-related topics. Khem Birch and Charles Bassey appear to be the most vulnerable, according to Hollinger. If San Antonio is unable to deal one of its guards, then either Doug McDermott, Reggie Bullock or Cedi Osman could be bought out.

Trade Breakdown: Jakob Poeltl To The Raptors

This is the third entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a deal between the Raptors and Spurs

On February 9, the Raptors acquired Jakob Poeltl from the Spurs in exchange for Khem Birch, the Raptors’ 2024 first-round pick (top-six protected), and Toronto’s second-round picks in 2023 and 2025.

The Raptors’ Perspective:

I found this to be one of the more fascinating trades of the deadline. The most obvious reason for that is many around the league thought the Raptors would – and should – be sellers.

Instead, the Raptors doubled down on their core group and made a win-now move to re-acquire Poeltl, whom the team drafted ninth overall back in 2016.

Toronto did not trade away a top-six protected first-rounder and two seconds for a rental player – the team plans to re-sign the center in free agency. Poeltl publicly said he could see it being a long-term fit.

Reports have indicated he could land a contract in the range of $15-20MM per year, so he will not be cheap.

The Raptors have lacked size and rebounding in the middle for multiple years, ranking 28th, 30th and 30th over the past three seasons in defensive rebounds per game, according to At 7’1″, Poeltl is one of the tallest players in the NBA, and he is solid on the defensive glass, ranking 21st in the league with a 24.9% defensive rebounding percentage (Chris Boucher previously led the team at 21.4%, which ranks 39th).

Poeltl also enhances a team strength on the other end, as his 13.3% offensive rebounding percentage ranks seventh in the league (Boucher is 16th at 11.3%). The Raptors have ranked second and fourth, respectively, in offensive rebounds per game over the past two seasons.

The Austrian big man was consistently one of the league’s stingiest rim protectors from 2019-22, ranking third, fourth and sixth in defensive FG% at the rim over those three seasons, per (minimum five shots defended and 40 games played). Opponents shot between 50.3% and 54.8% in those seasons with Poeltl defending them near rim (anything close to 50% is terrific).

Poeltl is allowing 62.2% at the rim in ‘22/23, which isn’t great, but the Spurs have by far the worst defense in the league – I wouldn’t read too much into that drop-off. For context, San Antonio is allowing opponents to shoot 50.9% from the field, which is dead last in the NBA, and 39.4% from three, which is also last.

On top of his rebounding and rim protection, the 27-year-old is a solid screener, and he improved tremendously as both a scorer and a passer during his time in San Antonio. Over the past two seasons with the Spurs, Poeltl averaged 12.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per night in 113 games (27.8 MPG).

Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet were all rookies in ’16/17 and spent their first two seasons together, so there is a level of familiarity not only with the organization but with Toronto’s longest-tenured players. That theoretically should help Poeltl re-acclimate quickly.

He brings a different look and dynamic to a team that had lacked a true center for a few years. The Raptors tried to play rookie Christian Koloko in a similar role to start the year, but he needs more time to develop.

The Raptors went 48-34 and made the playoffs as the East’s No. 5 seed last season. The front office hopes swapping out a non-contributor in Birch for Poeltl will not only galvanize the group amid a disappointing 28-31 season, but also enhance the team in ways that haven’t been seen since Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left in free agency back in 2020.

However, for all of Poeltl’s strengths, he is a non-shooter who is hard to rely on at the end of games due to his abysmal free throw shooting – he’s at 53.1% for his career. He might help others get better looks due to his screening and complementary play-making, but he doesn’t directly address the team’s 27th-ranked 3-point percentage (33.6%).

I also have yet to mention the contractual issues the team will be facing in the offseason, as Poeltl, VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. are all about to hit unrestricted free agency, barring unforeseen circumstances (VanVleet and Trent are expected to decline their player options for ‘23/24). This roster could get very expensive very quickly, and it’s hard to see any short-term championship upside unless Scottie Barnes develops into a star sooner rather than later.

Shortly after the deal, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri implied that the Raptors were less than thrilled with some of the trade offers they were getting for their players.

The way I look at the deadline (is) it’s really not a great place to make long-term decisions,” Ujiri said, per Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “In the summer, there are 29 losers and one winner. There are 29 teams looking to do more.”

There’s nothing wrong with that statement from a philosophical standpoint. But what he said and what the Raptors actually did at the deadline don’t align.

Toronto traded away a fairly lightly protected 2024 first-round pick (it’s top-six protected through 2026) and a couple second-rounders to bolster the team this season and have Poeltl’s Bird rights in free agency to give him a long-term contract. Everything about this deal involved long-term decisions and consequences.

Ujiri also gave some insight into how the Raptors’ front office views the team’s three potential free agents, according to Smith.

We are always focused on trying to retain our players,” Ujiri said. “That’s always the focus for us, and we’ll be focused on that with these guys and see how we perform the rest of the season and make that assessment.”

Obviously, part of the reason why VanVleet and Trent were retained is that the Raptors value them more than what other teams offered. There hasn’t been any solid reporting regarding exactly what Toronto was offered, so there’s no way to evaluate that stance from an outside perspective, but it’s reasonable enough on the surface – the Raptors have a severe lack of backcourt depth and they are the team’s two best guards.

Adding Poeltl and trading away those picks, particularly the first-rounder, indicates that the Raptors aren’t entertaining a full-scale rebuild anytime soon. There’s no reason they would need to – all of their best players are 28 years old or younger, so they should be able to retool if necessary without completely tearing it down.

We’ll see what they do in the offseason with some of their core players, but they may have missed an opportunity to go for a “soft” rebuild by cashing in on an asset or two and improving their lottery odds in what’s supposed to be a strong draft. Acquiring Poeltl just to increase the likelihood of getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs again this season is pretty strange, even if he’s a good player that fills a need.

The Spurs’ perspective:

San Antonio’s side of the deal is relatively straightforward. My best guess is either Poeltl let the Spurs know that he wasn’t going to re-sign this summer, or the Spurs decided they didn’t want to pay him his market price on a long-term contract in free agency while they’re in the infancy stage of a rebuild.

Birch was a solid backup center with Orlando, but saw his minutes cut as the Magic pivoted to a rebuild. The two sides reached a buyout agreement in April 2021 so he could get more playing time. The Montreal native caught on with the Raptors and impressed during his 19 games (30.4 MPG) with the club at the end of that season, averaging 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.2 blocks.

Unfortunately, knee problems have derailed his career after he re-signed with the Raptors on a three-year, $20MM deal, with Birch averaging just 3.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 75 games (15.4 MPG) over the past two seasons.

Moving off Birch’s guaranteed $7MM salary for ‘23/24 will help clear the books somewhat for Toronto. It seems unlikely that the 30-year-old will have much a role with the rebuilding Spurs after he gets healthy, but they have plenty of cap room available next season so adding him isn’t burdensome beyond taking up a roster spot.

The Spurs were reportedly looking for a couple first-round picks for Poeltl. I haven’t discussed this much in the past, but not all first-round picks are of equal value. That may seem like a very obvious statement, but it’s worth keeping in mind when reading rumors or evaluating trades.

I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember which episode it was, but ESPN’s Zach Lowe brought up on his podcast a few weeks ago that he spoke to an NBA executive who said their team breaks down the value of first-round picks into tiers. Unprotected picks from bad teams in the upcoming draft or from any team years down the line are the most valuable, followed by lightly protected picks (top-four or so), then moderately protected (roughly top-eight) and finally lottery-protected picks. Anything protected beyond the lottery doesn’t have much value because it could take a while to convey, if at all.

If the season ended today and the Raptors lost in the play-in tournament, their 2023 pick would have the ninth-best lottery odds. Are they a lock to make the playoffs next season? I would certainly say no, considering how mediocre they’ve been this season.

The Raptors have already showed their hand in that they have no intention of rebuilding. They wouldn’t have traded a solid first-round pick otherwise. Sure, they protected themselves a little bit, but they’re unlikely to be at the very bottom of the standings in 2024 — if they miss the playoffs, the pick is more likely to be in the latter half of the lottery than in the top six.

Let’s say the Raptors finish around .500 next season, miss the playoffs, and have the 12th-best lottery odds. The Spurs could very easily possess two lottery picks in 2024 in that scenario, and it’s not far-fetched.

The 2023 second-rounder the Spurs acquired from the Raptors would land No. 39 at the moment as well, which is pretty early. That certainly doesn’t have the same value as a late first-rounder, but it’s much better than, say, the No. 50 pick, which is often used on two-way players or draft-and-stash candidates.

Point being, there’s a strong case to be made that what San Antonio received in this deal is better value than getting a couple lottery-protected first-rounders from another team. That technically would have been receiving two first-round picks, even if they were conditional.

Prioritizing center minutes to Zach Collins and Charles Bassey also makes sense for the Spurs from a developmental perspective, as they’re both younger than Poeltl and less of a known commodity.

I personally think the Spurs got outstanding value for Poeltl given that he’s on an expiring $9.4MM contract and could be earning double that next season. He’s a good role player, but he isn’t the type who is going to significantly move the needle when the players around him are still in the early stages of their development.

Spurs Notes: Graham, Birch, Sochan, Barlow

Devonte’ Graham dropped 15 games and seven spots in the standings by virtue of the deadline-day deal that sent him from New Orleans to San Antonio, but the Spurs guard intends to make the most of his new situation, telling reporters after the trade that he has no problem playing for a rebuilding team.

“Rebuilding, but they play hard,” Graham said of the Spurs, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “I had the same experience in Charlotte, so I kind of know what this feels like, trying to rebuild but just playing the right way, playing hard and continuing to try to get better.”

After seeing his minutes reduced significantly in New Orleans this season, Graham is also welcoming the opportunity to play a more significant role in San Antonio. He averaged 15.3 minutes per game in 53 appearances for the Pelicans — that number has jumped to 29.7 MPG in his first three games with the Spurs.

“It’s a new adventure, new team, new city,” Graham said. “Optimistic about it. I have always been good at adjusting. Grateful to be around this franchise, a legendary coach (Gregg Popovich) and this young group.”

Here’s more on the Spurs:

  • Veteran center Khem Birch, acquired from Toronto in the Jakob Poeltl trade, has a right knee issue that will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future, per Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. Birch is with the Spurs on their current road trip, but won’t practice or play until being examined over the All-Star break by the team’s medical staff. “It’s going to be quite a while,” Popovich said of Birch’s timeline to return.
  • Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan doesn’t fit the mold of stoic former Spurs stars like Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, but the team doesn’t mind the rookie’s tendency to “talk crap,” as Popovich puts it. “He’s just so happy to be in the NBA and playing basketball,” Popovich said, according to McDonald. “That’s what he does. It’s his main interest. … Beyond what you see skill-wise out there and IQ-wise, he’s got that heart and courage. He’s not afraid of any situation. He’s not embarrassed to screw up. He just goes on to the next play. It’s a perfect example for how you’ve got to play.”
  • Determining how to properly evaluate prospects coming out of the relatively new Overtime Elite program remains a work in progress for NBA scouts. Still, Spurs two-way player Dominick Barlow has no regrets about his OTE experience and believes it helped prepare him for the next level, McDonald writes for The Express-News. “There are pros and cons, like you are not going to be able to play in college and get that kind of experience,” Barlow said. “That wasn’t a big thing for me. I really wanted to work on my game, that the jump I was able to make in a year was good enough to outweigh that (college experience). I was happy with it.”
  • In case you missed it, Charles Bassey signed a four-year contract with the Spurs that reportedly includes $5.2MM in guaranteed money.

Eastern Notes: VanVleet, Barnes, Allen, Irving, Udoka

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet will miss his second straight game on Monday due to a non-COVID illness, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. The Raptors are facing the struggling Pistons in Detroit. Forwards Pascal Siakam and Precious Achiuwa are also out of action, while big man Khem Birch is listed as questionable.

We have more from the Eastern Conference

  • Scottie Barnes had a rough shooting night in Indiana on Saturday and the Raptors need more from their dynamic second-year forward, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. Barnes is averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game but he has only reached the 20-point mark once despite the team’s injuries. Teammate Thaddeus Young says Barnes will break out soon. “Sometimes guys have a bad streak of games, or sometimes they have a bad start to the season then they take off at some point,” he said. “Things will change; they always do.”
  • Jarrett Allen missed Sunday’s game due to ankle soreness but coach J.B. Bickerstaff indicated prior to the game the Cavaliers center will likely return this week, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic tweets. “The thinking behind it is having today will give him like four days of rest before Milwaukee (on Wednesday),” Bickerstaff said. “It’s just been sore and he’s been powering through it.”
  • Nets guard Kyrie Irving sent out a tweet on Sunday related to his suspension, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays. Irving stated that he was not trying to incite racial disharmony or prejudice. “I was not put here on earth to participate in any religious/political wars or incite racial disharmony/prejudice within communities,” he wrote. “We are all equal under the sun and I am here to participate in the building of an Equal world and follow the Word from the Most High/GOD/YAH.”
  • The Celtics were willing to let Ime Udoka take the Nets job without demanding any compensation in return, according to Jay King of The Athletic. Now, the organization still has to decide what to do with Udoka after the season unless another suitor comes along. It seems likely Udoka will never coach the team again, King adds.

Raptors Notes: Injury Updates, Koloko, Growth, Expectations

Raptors big man Khem Birch (offseason knee surgery) is available for Friday’s game against the Nets. As Michael Grange of relays (via Twitter), Birch said he sat out Wednesday’s home opener against Cleveland for precautionary reasons and his knee “is feeling better” after experiencing swelling. Birch did not require a follow-up MRI, Grange adds.

Unfortunately, Chris Boucher and Otto Porter, who are both dealing with hamstring strains, are still out, tweets Blake Murphy of According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter thread), head coach Nick Nurse said he’s not sure when Boucher will be back, but he’s nearing a return.

He’s in pretty good shape. It should be soon,” Nurse said.

Porter, meanwhile, still hasn’t been able to practice yet, having been limited to individual conditioning and skill work. Lewenberg thinks a late-October or early-November return for the veteran forward “seems realistic.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Pressed into duty in part due to the injuries of the aforementioned bench trio, rookie center Christian Koloko showcased a different look for the Raptors in their opener, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. The 7’1″ native of Cameroon finished with three points, six rebounds and a block in 15 minutes, and teammates felt his impact in the paint on both ends of the court. “Having him be really the only big we’ve got, it makes it stand out more when he’s out there,” Fred VanVleet said, per Koreen. “We’re definitely gonna lean on him when he’s out there.”
  • The Raptors have the “vibe of a young, growing team,” but a salary cap crunch could make the roster difficult to retain in the future, Grange writes in a story for As Grange notes, VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. can be a free agents next summer if they decline their player options, Precious Achiuwa will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, Pascal Siakam would be eligible for a super-max extension if he makes an All-NBA team again this season, and OG Anunoby will be a free agent in 2024.
  • Toronto is unlikely to make any significant moves early in the season, which is normal. However, the team’s front office is preparing for what could be a very active trade deadline, and the Raptors feature several interesting players with desirable contracts. According to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star, the Raptors expect to advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2022/23 after losing their first-round series to Philadelphia last season, and if they don’t, there could be a major roster shakeup next summer.

Raptors Notes: Roster Battles, Porter Jr., Young, Barnes, Birch

The battle for the final roster spots on the Raptors‘ regular season roster is ongoing at training camp, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. The team currently has 12 spots believed to be locked in.

According to Lewenberg, Justin Champagnie, D.J. Wilson and Josh Jackson are expected to compete for the final roster spot, while Juancho Hernangomez and Dalano Banton will likely claim the other two.

“We do a staff vote every single day, and that vote changes every single day,” head coach Nick Nurse admitted.

The Raptors must trim their training camp roster down to 17 players (which can include two two-way players) by October 17 at 5:00 pm ET. Toronto has established itself as a team that prioritizes length and defensive versatility. The team went 48-34 last season, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Here are some other notes out of Toronto:

  • Otto Porter Jr. recently tweaked his hamstring in camp, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet (Twitter link). Nurse said Porter may be out for a “little bit.” Porter signed a two-year deal to join the team this past summer. In addition, Grange relays that Thaddeus Young (knee) is day-to-day. Young is once again expected to provide frontcourt depth off the bench for Toronto this season.
  • Second-year player Scottie Barnes is impressing Nurse and the team in training camp, Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press writes (link via The Toronto Star). Barnes won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award last season. “It feels like it’s better and he’s making more in the rhythm of what we’re doing,” Nurse said. “He’s not hesitating to take them at all, the threes. He’s still doing the rest of the stuff. He’s got that long, slow, strong drive where he puts it in the basket. He’s got that pull-up thing when he has a size advantage. But the frequency with which he’s letting them go is certainly on the rise.”
  • Big man Khem Birch discovered he suffered a torn meniscus when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee this offseason, Eric Koreen of The Athletic tweets. Birch isn’t 100% yet, but he’s working his way back. The 30-year-old appeared in 55 games with Toronto last season, averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per contest.