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After years of consistency at the big man position, the Toronto Raptors are about to enter this season without an established center for the second straight year.
Last season, the Raptors went from the likes of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka to Aaron Baynes. Toronto moved on from Baynes this offseason and the good news is that the Raptors’ rotation at the center position is looking much better than it was to start the last season.
Giving more opportunities to Birch and Gillespie
The late-season additions of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie were a much-needed burst of energy for Nick Nurse’s big man rotation, and both players will be a big part of the Raptors squad right from the start of the coming year.
Birch put up some of the best stat lines of his career, averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds-per-game after being bought out by the Orlando Magic and signing with the Raptors late in the 2020-2021 season. Back on April 29th, Birch put up a career-high 20 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals during a loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Now that he has had a full off-season to get comfortable in Nick Nurse’s system, it’s very possible we could see Birch named as the starting center on opening night and put up many more career-high stats this season.
How Precious is Achiuwa
The Raptors acquired another capable big man this summer in Precious Achiuwa, who could also benefit from an increased opportunity, much like Birch and Gillespie have. Achiuwa was a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, who is making his way to Toronto via the sign-and-trade deal that sent Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat.
Achiuwa had an impressive showing during the NBA Summer League this off-season and could be an extremely underrated piece for the Raptors to add to their big man rotation.
Trusting the vets when going small
Pascal Siakam, and now Chris Boucher, are two of the most important players on the Raptors, who may both be relied upon to play some time at the center position during stretches of the game when Nurse decides to play some small ball.
Siakam may need some time before he is ready to play that physical style again after shoulder surgery in the off-season, but the good news is that Boucher continues to improve every year.
Last season Boucher was a force on both ends of the floor, averaging 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. At just 28 years old, Boucher also had 12 double-doubles while shooting 51.4% from the field and 38.3% from the perimeter. He just might be ready for another breakout season.
Chances are that the Raptors will still continue to struggle to find consistency at the center position this season. The good news is that they have a solid squad of bigs this year and they are definitely better off than they were last season with Aaron Baynes and Alex Len. Raptors fans can be proud watching Canadians Khem Birch and Chris Boucher, while also cheering on this group of hardworking big men who have a chip on their shoulder and lots to prove.