Raptors Cage

Precious Achiuwa has shown upside as a do-it-all center

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It took an unusually long time, but after a whirlwind of rumours, reports, and rambunctious speculation running rampant throughout Twitter, we were granted the knowledge of whom the Toronto Raptors were receiving in return for Kyle Lowry via their sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat. Precious Achiuwa – a 21-year-old small-ball center with elite upside as a rim-runner – and a disgruntled former All-Star point guard in Goran Dragic were making their way to Toronto.

It’s unlikely that Dragic finishes the season as a Raptor. In fact, he may not even begin it as one. Although Raptors General Manager, Bobby Webster, has publicly stated that the Heat “legend” is excited to play for Toronto, Dragic was caught playing a different hand of cards while being interviewed on Slovenian TV, stating that Toronto was not his desired destination, and that he has “higher ambitions“. It’s considered an open secret that the Dallas Mavericks have interest in acquiring Dragic in hopes of elevating their playmaking in the backcourt, while pairing the ineffable, prodigious, and displeased Luka Doncic with his national team running mate.

To make the financial math balance, the Mavericks would likely be sending back Dwight Powell, plus both Tyrell Terry and Josh Green for Dragic. It seems like a hefty package for a point guard on the wrong side of 30 whose skills are clearly deteriorating, however it’s noteworthy that the Mavericks recently underwent an overhaul of their top management, and the current executives of their team may not be as keen on developing Terry and Green as those who drafted them. Alternatively, the Mavericks could wait until Moses Brown’s contract becomes tradeable again, which is set to occur on October 1st, so that he could be included in a deal to Toronto, replacing one of Green or Terry in the aforementioned package.

Ultimately, there are still multiple doors open for the Raptors brass to deal with Dragic’s situation. Regardless of how that plays out, his counterpart in the trade, Precious Achiuwa, will almost certainly be a part of Toronto’s opening night roster. After three consecutive impressive summer league performances, with a fourth due to come tomorrow as the Raptors square off against the Las Vegas (Brooklyn) Nets, it’s easier to feel a bit better about what the Greatest Raptor of All-Time yielded for Toronto as a part of his exit. Below, I’ll break down four key aspects of Achiuwa’s game that he’s shown off this summer, and what implications they could have for the Raptors style of play next season:

Shooting

On the surface, Achiuwa has the archetype of a rim-running and shot-blocking big. He’s a little bit undersized to play the five, standing at only six-foot-nine, however without a fluid three-point shot at this stage in his development process, it’s hard to slot him in at either forward spot offensively without clogging driving lanes. Surely, the shooting is an aspect of his game that the Raptors will try to develop, even if they intend for him to be a full-time center on the roster. Through three games in Vegas, Achiuwa has attempted four shots from deep and knocked down two of them – a small and insignificant sample size looking at it on the surface – however it speaks volumes about his willingness to take those shots, and the Raptors coaching staff encouraging him to do so, given that he only attempted one three-pointer during his entire rookie season with the Heat.

Achiuwa’s shot form is very upper-body dependent. He doesn’t leave the floor when he shoots, and he hardly bends his knees. Getting a little bit more loose in the lower body would allow him to generate more power from his legs, and focus more on the mechanics in his upper body. There is a difference between “shooting” the ball in the basket, and “throwing” the ball in the basket. Right now, Achiuwa fits in the latter category. Aside from those details, Achiuwa cocks his wrist back well, his guide hand doesn’t appear to be doing much of the shooting, and his toes are pointed towards the basket. He shot 32.5% from deep in his lone season at college, so his shot certainly isn’t broken, but judging by his subpar free-throw shooting at every level that he’s played at, he has a long way to go before he’ll possess much gravity on the perimeter. One thing that you can bank on Nick Nurse asking him to do is keeping his “hand in the cookie jar” after releasing the ball, as he typically drops his wrist immediately after letting the shot fly.

Pushing the fastbreak

One of the most impressive things that we’ve seen from Achiuwa in Summer League is his ability to push the ball in transition. Typically, bigs in the NBA will either lack the foot speed, the handle, or the playmaking IQ to run a fastbreak on their own, but Achiuwa doesn’t seem to display any of these weaknesses. He’ll unequivocally be a top-two rebounder on the roster next year, so for him to be able to grab rebounds and push the pace off misses will be an invaluable weapon for a Raptors squad that projects to struggle in halfcourt settings. In the clip below, Achiuwa notices that the defense isn’t set, and with nobody pressuring him to give up the ball, he takes it coast-to-coast for the layup.

(YouTube/NBA)

Shot creation

What makes Achiuwa an even more interesting prospect – and what is probably what Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster saw in him when they reportedly opted to have him included in the trade package instead of Tyler Herro – is his shot creating potential. Sure, he may never stack up to Herro in that department specifically, but Herro will never even hold a candle to Achiuwa’s defensive prowess. Even without the ability to create his own looks at this point in his career, Achiuwa can be a starter on a championship level team, but with somewhat of an offensive skillset, he could become a borderline All-Star.

Achiuwa’s elite NBA skill is his combination of size and athleticism. He can bully players smaller than him inside the paint, and he can blow by players bigger than him with his elite foot speed. The league is becoming more positionless every season, so there are more players equipped with the necessary skillset to stop a player like Achiuwa now than ever before, however against traditional lineups, he can still pose plenty of matchup problems – similarly to Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes. In the clip below, we can see how Achiuwa leverages his quickness to blow by his bigger defender in space, before dipping his shoulder inside to create room and finish the layup.

(YouTube/NBA)

Achiuwa typically looks uncomfortable playing out of the post. He doesn’t have much of a post fadeaway, his jump hook looks flat, and his footwork needs improvement, but if this is an area of his game that he can develop, then he will begin to look like a multi-faceted offensive threat who can face-up or play on the low-block. On the play below, we can see him posting up a smaller defender inside, having enough feel to spin when his defender reaches, and then having the patience to wait for JT Thor to fly by before going up for the reverse layup.

(YouTube/NBA)

Defensive versatility

Last, but certainly not least, is the defensive versatility that Achiuwa brings to the roster. Nick Nurse admitted that he plans to test out lineups next season featuring five forwards, which will presumably include Barnes, Siakam, Anunoby, Achiuwa, and one of Chris Boucher or Khem Birch. Nurse will need to get creative with the offensive sets that those lineups run given the log jam that they’ll create offensively, however with an average wingspan of over seven-foot-two, the defense will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It will be imperative for all five players on the court to be able to switch everything, which is something that we know Barnes, Anunoby, and Siakam are comfortable with, but Achiuwa is showing that he is more than capable of clamping guards on the perimeter as well.

James Bouknight, the 11th overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft had the ball in his hands with the game on the line a couple of nights ago. He presumably got the switch that he was looking for after Nick Richards set a screen on the sideline to free him from Malachi Flynn, but as he caught the ball and looked at who was guarding him, there stood Precious Achiuwa. It’s common for most centers to give guards a few feet of separation outside the arc, knowing that they’ll be able to contest a pull-up jumper with their longer wingspan, but more so because they’re afraid to get blown by and render the interior defense – which is left guarded by wings – helpless. Rather, Achiuwa pressures the ball, moves his feet well, stays low in his stance, doesn’t reach, sticks out his arms to prevent any shift changes of direction, and ultimately forces Bouknight to pick up his dribble in a bad spot, which can be seen below. That level of defensive versatility is a skill that is less rare in the NBA now, but is still extremely valuable, as it gives coaches the ability to design more modern defenses which can combat more perimeter-oriented, pick-and-roll or dribble-hand-off heavy offenses.

(YouTube/NBA)

The next opportunity to see Precious in action will come tomorrow evening at 5:30PM, where the Raptors will hope to close out their Summer League experience with a 4-1 record. Hopefully the Raptors’ digital content team will be able to provide us with a solid stream of Open Gym Moments to hold us over until training camp begin, because this is the last time we’ll see our team in action for a couple of months. For odds on how the Raptors will fare during the 2021-2022 regular season, make sure to check out pinkcasino Canada.

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