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Player Preview: Precious Achiuwa’s development could be a big highlight this season

This will be a big year for Precious Achiuwa as he will try to define a role for himself on the Toronto Raptors.

Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors Photo by Andrew Lahodynskyj/Getty Images

Two years ago, Precious Achiuwa made his way to Toronto as the main return for Kyle Lowry. Everyone, especially Masai Ujiri, seemed fairly high on him when he joined the team. Now after having spent the last two seasons with the Raptors, we have a fairly clear picture of his potential and abilities.

He’s had some great highlight plays on both ends of the floor and his physicality and explosiveness around the rim has put players on a poster. It’s difficult not to still have high expectations of him given his obvious potential, but despite posting solid numbers, there seems to be a bit of a cloud around the expectations Raptors fans have of him.

This past season, he averaged 9/6/1 on 48% shooting in about 20 minutes a game. Fairly decent for a role player on the team, but perhaps the disappointment surrounding his performance last year was the comparisons to the year before. The only real obvious statistical improvement he’s made since his first year in Toronto is his free-throw shooting. His points, assists, blocks, and steals all remained relatively consistent while his 3-point-shooting went down almost 10% and his rebounds dropped by half a rebound a game. While it may feel like a step backwards, in reality, a lot of people may be getting ahead of themselves, and Precious most certainly should not be counted out as a real contributor and piece for this team.

First and foremost, his offensive potential needs to be considered since his size and strength make him a force at the basket. The challenge is, the offence was a little bit broken the last couple years, and in some ways, it felt like every player on the team was forcing possessions. For Precious, transition offence and isolation were his weakest points (14th and 6th percentile respectively), but no one should be expecting him to be the one facilitating either of those actions.

It felt like isolation play was everyone’s bad habit last year, and Precious was no exception. A lot of the plays that ended poorly for him were really only the result of unsavoury shot selection, something that theoretically can be fixed by development and experience. Darko’s reputation as a player development coach shouldn’t be understated here, nor should the possibility for Precious to flourish in a more organised offence that utilises him as a cutter or in a horns offence.

Last year Precious scored 1.25 points per play when he was utilized as a cutter. In fact, he scored on 67% of his shots when cutting, which proves this to be his highest statistical offensive play. Cutting is used in virtually all offensive systems to some extent, but last year specifically his involvement in horns offence was effective by an eye test. If you’re unsure of what a horns action is, here’s a pretty good example of one of the ways it can evolve:

Precious being one of the high posts in this scenario opens him up as a screener or cutter. This is obviously one of his more favourable actions, and hopefully as the offence starts to evolve this year, this option opens itself up for him so he is able to improve his decision making skills as plays develop too.

Precious has proven he’s a strong defender in the post and close to the basket. On two point shots only 53.9% go if Precious is guarding them. While that seems like a high percentage, it’s actually one of the lowest for any Raptors player. Only Christian Koloko and O.G. Anunoby allowed fewer shots in that range according to the NBA’s advanced statistics.

The reality is that Precious needs to stay inside the 3 point line as a defender though, as once he is beyond the arc, he struggles considerably. About 42% of 3 pointers score that he is guarding, although with strong wing defenders like OG on the team, it’s not necessary to set him up in a tough spot where he isn’t as likely to succeed.

While it’s easy to get caught up in his mistakes from last year, it’s important to recognize the possibility for further improvement with the changing of the coaching staff and addition of new players. Dennis Schroder will likely be able to help facilitate a horns offence that Precious would thrive in. There is also more potential for him as a lob threat with some of the well-placed passes Schroder is able to contribute, helping Precious as a cutter as well.

He has the right size and athleticism to be a contributor on the team, and it is more likely than not that we will get more highlights from him this year with the same shades as last year: posterizing other defences, breakaway dunks, and a few nice 3-pointers sprinkled in. It would be great to see him average 10/8, but if he’s able to start making the right reads on the offensive end, it would be of much greater significance to the Raptors’ offence.

Hopefully, in his fourth season everything will really start to come together.