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Player Review: Precious Achiuwa is key to Toronto’s next championship run

Masai Ujiri hit another homerun when he acquired Precious Achiuwa. If the post-All-Star break version of Achiuwa is a preview of his future, the Raptors have every reason to be excited about their trajectory.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Precious Achiuwa may be the latest piece acquired via trade that could help lead the Toronto Raptors to their next championship.

How’s that for an attention-grabbing opener!

Before you dismiss this post as foolish propaganda, allow me to state my case by first looking at the franchise’s top-5 players, in terms of win shares compiled as Raptors, as well as what happened when they were traded from Toronto. Actually, we’re only going to be able to look at four names. Vince Carter is being omitted because let's be honest, not even in Masai Ujiri’s worst nightmare would he trade VC for the pupu platter that Rob Babcock (RIP) received. So, here are four of the five best Raptors and the trade haul they brought to Toronto.

  • Chris Bosh: Traded for draft picks, one of which would become Jonas Valanciunas
  • Jonas Valanciunas: Traded in a package that brought Marc Gasol to Toronto
  • DeMar DeRozan: Traded in a package that brought Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to Toronto
  • Kyle Lowry: Traded to Miami for Achiuwa, and someone else whose name escapes me

To recap, the trades that sent out Bosh, JV, and DeRozan netted a return of 60% of Toronto’s championship-winning starting lineup.

Putting that kind of pressure on a player who averaged 12 minutes in his rookie season before arriving in Toronto seems a bit much. Achiuwa, like many of his Raptor teammates, put a slow start behind him and ended up overachieving beyond our wildest expectations.

The Numbers

When Precious was acquired, part of the excitement was the defensive upside he showed in Miami. That upside became reality as the season wore on. By season’s end, Achiuwa was shutting down MVP candidates — Joel Embiid (34.6%), Luka Doncic (33.3%), Giannis Antetokoumnpo (0/5 shooting) — All-Star guards — James Harden (14.3%), Trae Young (33.3%) — and the next generation of stars — Cade Cunningham (14.3%), Evan Mobley (33.3%), Jalen Suggs (33.3%).

Vision 6’9 was a fun nickname after Masai Ujiri spent most of the team’s salary cap on acquiring like-sized bigs, but Nick Nurse saw the potential and dove head-first into the concept. His switch-heavy defensive scheme was employed to the nth degree this season, none more than with Achiuwa. Below are the splits of who he guarded on defense (percentage of time guarding a specific position in brackets) and how those players fared in shooting against Precious:

  • Guards (24.8%) shot 44.1%; Forwards (43.9%) shot 42.7%; Centers (31.3%) shot 47.9%

By comparison, here’s a look at Rudy Gobert’s splits:

  • Guards (18.7%) shot 38.5%; Forwards (46.4%) shot 42.2%; Centers (34.9%) shot 47.0%

Utah’s defense doesn’t switch as much as Toronto’s (no one does), but it’s obvious that Achiuwa can hold his own against anyone on offense, even when compared to one of the best defensive Centers of this era.

After an excellent All-Star Weekend where he was an MVP candidate during the Rising Stars Challenge, Achiuwa’s post-All-Star form was what Raptors fans' dreams are made of. (Just assume all stats below are after the All-Star break unless otherwise noted.)

3-point shooting should not be the determining factor of Precious’ success but it has morphed from a nice-to-have to an essential swing factor in his growth. Achiuwa shot 39.2% from beyond the arc, hitting an average of 1.5 threes per game. Over a full season, the list of Raptor bigs to hit those thresholds is tiny: Andrea Bargnani, Serge Ibaka, and Donyell Marshall (twice). The only Raptors to shoot that well while mostly coming off the bench: Tracy Murray and Marshall.

With Marshall’s name appearing more than once, the conversation takes an interesting turn if we compare the two. Their Per-36 minutes numbers are similar across the board (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks), except for shooting from the field (Precious is more efficient) and from the line (Donyell shot better). While Marshall was ahead of his time as a shooting big (as his 3-point attempt adjusted rate of 144 would indicate), Achiuwa represents a much brighter future for a Raptors franchise that’s ahead of the rebuilding curve.

Future Outlook

Look no further than the playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers to get a glimpse of Achiuwa’s potential. If he wasn’t utilizing his underrated upper-body strength to hold his ground against Joel Embiid in the post, Precious was staying in lock-step with James Harden on the perimeter. He has the tools to be an All-Defense mainstay, full stop.

Achiuwa has the strength of OG Anunoby, the finesse of Pascal Siakam, and, hopefully with a sample size larger than post-All-Star break, the outside shooting accuracy of Fred VanVleet. Anunoby will usually be given the toughest defensive assignment. Siakam and Scottie Barnes are malleable defensive pieces that can provide elite help defense. But Achiuwa’s ability to come in off the bench and ensure there is no defensive drop-off makes him the glue of Vision 6’9.

At the beginning of the season, Achiuwa struggled because he was overthinking with the ball in his hands. Over-dribbling was actually a season-long issue, as his effective field goal percentage was excellent when he did NOT dribble (58.5%). But each dribble led to a significantly lower percentage: 1 dribble (34.3%), 2 dribbles (37.5%), 3-6 dribbles (38.3%), 7+ dribbles (20.0%). This off-season, Precious should continue working on his 3-point shot in catch-and-shoot scenarios, where he shot 37.5%. More specifically, he should shoot his threes above the break, as he was in the 85th percentile among bigs shooting non-corner threes.

If Achiuwa can continue knocking down outside shots, there’s a multiplier effect where defenses are kept honest, opening up driving lanes for his teammates (or himself to crash the offensive glass). Add in his continued growth on the defensive end, where he’s already providing stellar defense while also not fouling (76th percentile in foul percentage among bigs), and you can’t help but be excited for Precious and his trajectory as a key cog in Toronto’s next championship run.

Overall grade: B+