Why I still believe in Precious Achiuwa

Few players have a path to becoming a star, even a narrow one. Teams need to maximize those who can.

When Paul George was a rookie, he wasn’t supposed to become the star on his team. That distinction went to Danny Granger, who was in the midst of averaging over 20 points a game for the third season in a row. Team USA leader Kenneth Faried was the future star of the Denver Nuggets in 2015, not Nikola Jokic. Rookie Jimmy Butler was buried behind Luol Deng, then an All-Star, as well as Ronnie Brewer. It’s not always obvious who will become future stars, not even to their own teams. 

Precious Achiuwa is buried within the Toronto Raptors’ rotation. Among forwards or centers, he finished fifth in minutes per game, with Chris Boucher, Thad Young, Juancho Hernangomez, and Christian Koloko all averaging fewer minutes than him but certainly stealing some from him at some points in the season. Oh, and the Raptors signed Jaden McDaniels this upcoming season to add to the logjam. It’s outrageously hard for a forward currently on the Raptors to differentiate himself. 

Pascal Siakam is the star, the lodestone of the team. Scottie Barnes is the future. O.G. Anunoby is the ideal complementary piece. Jakob Poeltl is the missing piece at center. It will be virtually impossible for Achiuwa to supplant any of those four as long as they are all on the team. But it will be in Toronto’s best interests to at the very least find out what it has in Achiuwa. To this point, he still must be considered an unknown. 

For Achiuwa, the defense is a given. He is as switchable as anyone in the league, and even though he’s relatively undersized as a center, his length and strength makes up for it. Though 2022-23 was a relative down year for him defensively (although he was fantastic), he was one of the best rim protectors in the league the year prior for Toronto. He has Defensive Player of the Year potential if he becomes consistent, and if a team’s scheme and rotation prioritizes his defense. At the very least, he’s a huge defensive plus. There’s little to add there; he’s already a defensive monster.

But on the offensive end, Achiuwa has the chance -- far from a guarantee, but a chance -- to be comparably special. 

Achiuwa is already a very effective cutter. He has above average acceleration and deceleration loads among centers or forwards, per Second Spectrum, meaning he’s generally able to get a step on whomever is covering him. And though he’s still not an elite finisher on the catch (more on his finishing in different situations in a moment), he has improved dramatically over his career. He scored 1.25 points per chance on cuts last season, which was below average across the league, but was far, far above what he recorded in any other season of his career. But his frequency as a cutter is indicative of future success, as the play is so high-value that even a poor finisher as a cutter who does it all the time adds huge value to an offense. He is also great at attacking closeous with drives, although he was inefficient in other scenarios.

As a pick-and-roll handler, Achiuwa actually found great success. He did only run 20 last year, which is a meaninglessly small sample size, but the film shows he was impressive at turning the corner against switches. His aggression and commitment generally left defenders flat-footed. He has such explosive athleticism, he can burst past half-committed nail help.

Achiuwa will never become a pick-and-roll big like, say, Jokic. But he could run one a game, sometimes two or three, as curveballs for scores in tight spots or to loosen the defense for the next set. He could initiate against the right matchup or to force the right switch. It will never be a major weapon, but it could be a nifty tool to use on the rare occassion.

Yes, there’s lots that remains lacking in Achiuwa’s offensive package. He can drive into a crowd and turn it over. He misses passing lanes. He can drift through some stretches without being visible and become hypervisible at others, stealing the spotlight from players above him on the hierarchy. His efficiency remains poor because he still hasn't added efficiency anywhere beyond the rim. All of this could be fixed in time. His pure ability to create advantages in situations when others can’t should earn him a much, much longer rope than other players.