Miami Heat Power Forward Preview: Khem Birch


Analyzing Last Year’s Performance

Khem Birch, a 6’9″ 220 lb. forward out of UNLV, went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. A highly touted prospect coming out of high school, Birch was rated the 11th best player in the 2011 recruiting class. After an underwhelming ten games as a freshman at Pittsburgh, Birch decided to transfer to UNLV. His sudden transfer translated into two consecutive Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year awards at UNLV, as well as showing scouts he was deserving of NBA roster spot due to his spectacular defensive versatility.

Last year as a junior, Birch averaged 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. He also shot 51% from the field and finished second in blocks per game. After a solid junior season, Birch decided forgo his senior season and enter into the talent-flowing 2014 NBA Draft. This proved to be a huge mistake. Many scouts and NBA Draft experts predicted that Birch would fall in the 50-60 range, but that never happened.

Despite going undrafted, Birch told Taylor Burn of the Las Vegas Sun that he still does not regret forgoing his senior season.

"“I felt what I do is what I was going to do next year in college, just be an energy player and a defensive player. So I wanted to take my talents to the next level. Then I would have been a year older and been the same type of player,” Birch said. “Right now I’m younger and I’m learning.”"

You certainly can’t blame Birch for his positivity and attitude, but only time will tell if he made the right decision or not.

How LeBron’s Departure Impacts His Role

The Heat played the last four seasons without a reliable rim protector. Although they won two championships in that time-frame, rim protection was Miami’s biggest enemy. Despite Chris Andersen’s shot blocking prowess, he could never consistently block shots, often mistiming his jumps.

If Birch is able to crack a roster spot, he would be called upon to be Miami’s top rim protector. He’d be nothing more than a situational player, but every NBA team needs a consistent rim-protector. Even if the Heat lack a rim protector, the odds are very slim that Birch even gets consideration over Justin Hamilton, who played well in the Summer League.

Projections for this Season

If Birch would be able to secure a roster spot, he would get very little playing time. With the addition of Josh McRoberts, the Heat have a log-jammed front court, with the likes of Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Justin Hamilton.

I expect Birch to average around 1.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He will most likely be fighting for the Heat’s final roster spot, so underachieving at training camp is not an option for Birch.

“Why I’m Excited”

Like I mentioned before, the Heat haven’t had a reliable rim protector in a long time. With the addition of Birch, the Heat won’t be getting dunked on by Manu Ginobili– at least one can hope. He is an agile forward who brings the knit and grit every Miami Heat player has. He reminds me a lot of former Heat forward, Brain Grant, who was very undersized for the position, but still had a fantastic career in the NBA. It will be interesting to see if Birch makes the roster, and if he does, how Coach Spoelstra utilizes his advanced defensive capabilities.

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