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Watson: Birch bringing UNLV pedigree to NBA Draft

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Duane Watson
6/22/2014 12:53:11 PM
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The 2014 NBA Draft will be a historic one for Canadian basketball, with as many as seven players from Canada - three of them as high as the first round - possibly selected. In the days leading up to the draft, TSN.ca and TSN Radio basketball analyst Duane Watson looks at some of the names that will be headlining the event. Watch the 2014 NBA Draft on TSN, Thursday at 7pm et/4pm pt.

Name: Khem Birch
From: Montreal, Quebec
Played: University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Height: 6'9"
Weight: 209
Position: Power Forward
2013-2014 Stats: 11.5 points per game, 10.2 rebounds, 3.8 blocks
Breakout Game: 15 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks assists in win vs. Boise State on Feb 1.
Accolades: 2013-14 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, finished second in the nation in blocked shots per game.
Draft Projection: Mid-late second round.
Comparable NBA player: Chris Andersen

Khem Birch's young basketball career has already been fuelled by some interesting decisions. Birch entered the NCAA ranks as the 11th-best high school player in the United States, and accepted a scholarship with the University of Pittsburgh. However, the Montreal native controversially left Pitt only 10 games into his freshman season. At the point of his departure, he earned a spot in the starting line up and showed glimpses of the defence and athleticism that made him a blue chip prospect. Yet after citing team issues of selfishness, he returned home to figure out his next move, which would eventually lead him to transfer to UNLV.

Birch played two seasons at UNLV, his first coinciding with Toronto native Anthony Bennett's standout freshman campaign that culminated in his first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Bennett outshined Birch with his dominant play and impressive stat line, yet Birch was named Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year. This season with Bennett out of the picture, Birch almost doubled his scoring (7.5 ppg to 11.5 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg to 10.2 rpg) averaging a double-double, and again winning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honours. Despite improvement across the board Birch is very much a raw athlete, and instead of spending another year at school to work on his offensive game, he declared for the 2014 NBA Draft.

Birch's strength is his defence. His 7'1" wingspan placed him second in the NCAA in blocked shots behind fellow Canadian Jordan Bachynski at a clip of 3.8 per game. His quickness and mobility make him a strong rim protector and help defender where his tenacity on defence can't be overlooked, tallying 1.2 steals per game. Offensively, he can run the floor and moves well without the ball, but is very limited in terms of offensive moves. His inability to create his own shot, coupled with his slight build will make it hard for him to maintain position in the low post. Quite simply, Birch will have to bulk up, which will help him on the defensive end as well. A great athlete with a high motor equals lots of upside, yet he's still a project. If an NBA team wants to develop him and help round out his game, it's not a risk, but a long-term investment. It would be an interesting choice, however that's something that Birch is not averse to.

Khem Birch (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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