Alchemy is chemistry but with the magic of childhood tossed in for good measure. In the dry, scientific method of chemistry, one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen at the correct temperature will create water, over and over, until the sun burns out and maybe even after. Replicability rules all. In the magical realism of alchemy, instability and unpredictability reign. Perhaps adjusting the ratio of earth and air in iron won’t create gold the first 100 attempts, but it just might the next time. There’s a language of hope, of rags to riches, of mystery and secret to alchemy.
Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes are an alchemical reaction on the basketball court. Their combination might mean one reaction at one time and another entirely the next. There's mystery, secrecy, and most of all hope that informs their collective spirit.
Separately, Achiuwa and Barnes have been impressive players this season, albeit to differing extents. Per-game averages for Achiuwa of 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks with miserable efficiency are modest. Barnes’ 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks are immeasurably louder. (Their per-100-possession stats are closer to identical, with more rebounds for Achiuwa and more assists for Barnes, for what it’s worth.)
Toronto’s offense is significantly better with Barnes on the court than on the bench -- he has the second best offensive on/offs on the team behind only Pascal Siakam. Achiuwa is neutral -- he's been storming up the standings since returning from injury, and before long expect him to be a fairly large positive. Defensively, both have slightly below average on/offs, with Achiuwa again coming in worse.
To be fair, those numbers are largely tilted by Achiuwa’s poor start to the season. Since his return to the lineup from injury on Jan. 2, Achiuwa's performance has been much more reliable. (Over that same period, the team has been significantly better on both ends with Barnes playing than sitting.)
When the two are together, they statistically take on the identities of Barnes on both ends. The offense is impressive, scoring 118.3 points per 100 possessions, but the defense is poor, allowing 116.5 per 100. That’s the chemistry -- two elements in combination have a stable, metallic bond.
But beyond the numbers, there’s magic at work. Non-repeatable, chaotic magic. Sometimes they make gold and sometimes nothing more than rusted iron. Achiuwa and Barnes both have their weaknesses, to be sure. But in many ways, they address one another’s limitations by turning them into strengths. This is where the alchemy comes in, which isn't always reflected by the numbers at large. Achiuwa and Barnes don’t just ameliorate one another; they catalyze entirely new modes of functioning on both ends of the floor.
For anyone who watches the game rather than looks at the numbers, Achiuwa is not weak defensively. Quite the opposite. He thrives in chaos, with a unique ability to collect blocks when he’s not in between the man and the basket. He high-points blocks like he’s catching a frisbee.