After the Raptors got out to a bit of a slow start, Precious Achiuwa checked into the game like he has many games before. It was his first action of the preseason, and he hoped to make his mark early. All of the momentum that he had coming out of the 2021-22 season was sapped away by an early injury, a short leash from Nick Nurse, and a team that had lost its identity. He's a talented young player in year 4, and now is the time to establish himself - again.
The Wizards -- after connecting on a lob out of the pick n' roll -- targeted the same action, only Achiuwa lay in wait, and that created a different outcome. With lightning quick feet, Achiuwa played the middle perfectly between guard and big, before leaning back, leaping and disrupting the lob play. Shortly after that, he got crossmatched on Jordan Poole in transition. Twice the Wizards gave the ball to Poole on that possession -- a crafty, explosive scorer with a big on him should be advantageous -- and twice Achiuwa shuffled his feet, and forced Poole to kill his dribble and move off ball.
"I'm impressed with him, and I'm seeing that every single day." Darko Rajakovic told me after the game. "Every practice and every time that he touches the floor, he's just making winning plays. For me that's no surprise. At the same time, I don't see him as a 4, or a 5, as a 3 or a 2, he's just like a player that can guard multiple positions. You could see it tonight when he was on the floor, we were inclined more to switch, because I have so much trust that he can handle any player, 1 through 5, on the court."
Twice more in that game, the Wizards tried to reject a screen in the pick n' roll, choosing to go after the Raptors big man -- or, at least, he was guarding another big man -- and twice Achiuwa stuck his man and blocked them. Once on a skyscraping pin off the backboard, another when he got Poole stuck beyond the buoys and foul grifting. He looked special in space, and special in close areas. He was every bit of the player who created so much buzz for the future, and for a time, made the Raptors wonder if they could get away without a center on the roster.