Getting to know your newest Spurs after a whirlwind NBA Trade Deadline
The San Antonio Spurs emerged from the NBA Trade Deadline with fresh faces on their roster, acquiring Khem Birch from the Toronto Raptors and Devonte' Graham from the New Orleans Pelicans. Your average fan likely doesn't know much about either veteran. And truth be told, I'm not privy to the kind of production they can bring to the 2-1-0 either.
So with plenty of questions about the well-traveled journeymen, I turned to a pair of local-market specialists to learn about Graham and Birch. The Spurs faithful already soaked in a firsthand account of Graham during his historic debut, so let's kick things off with a Birch breakdown courtesy of Raptors Rapture Site Expert Mike Luciano.
1.) Most Spurs fans probably aren’t familiar with Khem Birch, what kind of player is he on both ends of the court?
Birch is a classic low-post big who isn't going to offer much on the offensive end outside of being a passable offensive rebounder that can dunk it. Defensively, he can hold his own, and he has enough functional strength and physicality to make it hard for opposing bigs, but he lacks tremendous measurables.
2.) What can the 30-year-old veteran bring on and off the court to a San Antonio team in the thick of a full-throttle rebuild?
Birch's tenure in Toronto was somewhat disappointing, as he was removed from the rotation early in the 2021-22 season. On the court, he isn't going to provide much as a Poeltl replacement, but there could be some value in keeping him around as a pseudo assistant that can help develop whomever the Spurs sign or draft to man the center spot.
3.) The sixth-year center fell out of the rotation with the Raptors, what went wrong for him over the last couple of seasons?
Honestly, he's just too limited of a player. He can't shoot, lacks mobility, can't handle the ball, and isn't enough of a shot-blocker to anchor the paint for extended minutes. Once the Raptors drafted a younger player with more mobility in Christian Koloko, that was pretty much the death knell for Birch. At his age, he's not likely to fundamentally overhaul his game.
4.) Despite trending in the wrong direction during his time in Toronto, do you expect Birch to bounce back under head coach Gregg Popovich?
I would be incredibly shocked if he ends up getting back on track. Outside of his 11.9 points per game stint in the Tampa bubble, which was as fraudulent as that entire feckless season, Birch hasn't been anything more than a guy who can play 15 minutes and finish off a couple of dunks following offensive rebounds. His value at this point is purely rooted in leadership and mentorship to younger bigs.
With that information in our back pockets, how about we move on to the second and more notable of the two new names in San Antonio? Graham dropped a season-high 31 points in his first appearance for the Silver and Black, but that was far from the norm in New Orleans. Pelican Debrief Site Expert Mat Issa gives us his two cents on the fifth-year guard.
1.) Spurs fans may not know much about Devonte’ Graham, what can they expect from him on either end of the hardwood?
Defensively, I’d say the effort is there, and he’s got good hands, but he’s just extremely limited by his smaller stature, especially in the length-ball era.
Most of his value is going to come from his offense. His shooting hasn’t really been there since he got to New Orleans (we’ll talk about this more in a bit). But in Charlotte, he had a reputation as a wicked volume pull-up three-point shooter. Those will be huge for a team that really struggles with self-generated scoring. And while it might not mean as much as it used to, he provides a traditional point guard presence, which the Spurs lack outside of Tre Jones (who, by the way, is just a really fun watch).
2.) Is there anything special the six-one point guard can bring on or off the court to a franchise trying to execute a competent tank?
I made a note about it when I watched the San Antonio Spurs play the Chicago Bulls last week, but I feel like a similar pattern unfolds every time I see them. They come out the gates hot, cutting and coming off screens and handoffs like there’s no tomorrow. They surprise their opponent by keeping it close for a while. Then the other team tightens things up on defense, and the cuts and slips from the first are no longer there. When guys have to start creating for themselves, things get ugly, and games get away from them.
If they end up keeping Graham, his speed, ballhandling, and veteran presence will give them a calming force to help them when things tighten up.
3.) The undersized sharpshooter gradually slipped out of the rotation in New Orleans, what were some of the main reasons for that?
Short answer: he stopped sharpshooting. Long answer: he’s a one-dimensional player, and once that one dimension started folding, it became really hard for him to positively impact basketball games.
They actually mention Graham specifically as an example in a recent episode of Thinking Basketball that discusses the phenomenon of the one-dimensional player. When you only have one area of your game that is an NBA-level skill, especially when that skill is scoring (like Graham), you can go from high-end contributor to out-of-the-rotation way faster than more versatile players. And that’s exactly what happened with Graham. He was a nice piece for the Hornets, and then his jumper left him, and it all went downhill from there.
4.) If you were Gregg Popovich, would you ask Graham to spearhead the second unit? Or should he shift those reps to Blake Wesley?
It’s funny. I had this thought the other day while watching the Miami Heat play the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were playing Daniel Theis big minutes while Isaiah Jackson racked up a DNP-CD. And I’m sitting there like, ‘you already know what you have in Theis, but you don’t know for certain what you have in Jackson. Why aren’t you giving him those minutes?’
And I think it's the same thing with Graham and Wesley. We have a pretty thorough understanding of who Graham is as a basketball player, but we aren’t entirely sure about Wesley. Give those reps over to Wesley and figure out what you have there.