Khem Birch Impressing in NBA Workouts

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

Former Pittsburgh Panther, Khem Birch, impressed NBA scouts and ESPN's Chad Ford in a pre-draft workout in Long Island, New York last week.

Per Chad Ford (ESPN Insider Only), UNLV's Khem Birch worked out yesterday in Long Island, New York along with Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson, and Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.  The workout was conducted by trainer Jay Hernandez in front of several NBA scouts, GMs (presumably) and, obviously, Chad Ford.

Now, I caught a little bit of flack for my last article about Birch declaring for the NBA Draft mostly because he no longer plays for Pitt.  While I certainly appreciate that perspective, I do think it ties into a more systemic issue with the program – depending on your perspective.

Most fans remember Birch as the highest rated recruit under Dixon back in 2011, until one year later when Steven Adams would garner that distinction.  According to ESPN, Birch was the 12th highest rated player in the 2011 recruiting class, the second rated center overall.  Of the top-15 players of that recruiting class, all of them are either in the NBA[1], had an opportunity to audition for an NBA roster spot[2], or have declared for this year’s draft[3].

What Birch displayed yesterday was what most ‘experts’ thought he’d be when he entered college: an athletic big who can block shots and rebound the basketball.  He is still raw offensively, but surprised some people with his ability to connect from midrange and beyond, despite having rather poor collegiate numbers in both those categories.

I honestly feel like Birch, his family, and his representation read this draft correctly – there aren’t a lot of centers.  Ford reported that the analytical heads love the advanced metrics on Birch.  Even if he never develops much of an offensive game, he’ll always be able to block shots and rebound the basketball so long as he improves on his timing and discipline a little bit more.  The bottom line with Birch is that there is still untapped potential.

Conversely, former senior forward Lamar Patterson probably won’t hear his name called until late in the draft, if at all.  As a player who is best with the ball in his hands, you have to ask yourself: is there any team in the NBA that wants Patterson to have the ball in his hands over anyone else on their roster?  Look, I love how Patterson stepped up this season, but he absolutely maximized his potential.

While you can argue if that actually worked out for the Panthers in the long run is one thing, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that a lot of NBA teams value potential and measurements over production, perhaps more than they should.

My point is this: Pitt does a really good job of maximizing the talents of relatively unheralded players, but it would be nice to see them get the most out of guys with higher ceilings.  Between Dante Taylor, Birch, and Adams, the fact that all those guys didn’t work out in some fashion or another has to say as much about the program as it does about those players.

I’d buy that one of those guys wasn’t all there mentally, but all three?  I am not sure you can sell me on that.  There were a lot of rumblings that Taylor wasn’t used correctly, which is pretty frustrating considering he stayed all four years.  You definitely don’t have to twist my arm to convince me that Birch was unhappy from the get go.  I think the consensus is that Adams was a lottery pick, and it made no sense for him to stay.  With that said, lost in all that is the fact those guys were recruited by people within the Panthers’ program.

It’s one thing to take over as coach and have some disgruntled incumbent players.  It’s a totally different ball game when you sit in their living rooms and you’re the one giving them the pitch about why Pitt is a great place for them.

Again, I think Dixon does a very good job of player development and he has the track record to prove it.  However, while it’s nice that Patterson can go from unknown to All-ACC, it would be really nice if he was able to develop a guy like Birch from a McDonald’s All-American to an NCAA AP All-American.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz

[1] Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Austin Rivers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Quincy Miller, Marquis Teague, Adonis Thomas, and Cody Zeller.

[2] Myck Kabongo and Josiah Turner.

[3] James McAdoo, LeBryan Nash, Khem Birch, and P.J. Hairston.

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