Precious Achiuwa’s progress is making the Kyle Lowry trade look better for the Raptors
Confidence — supreme confidence — is a necessary attribute for any successful athlete, and Precious Achiuwa is full of that.
Embolden by the work he does away from basketball, supported by his teammates and coaches, the 22-year-old has expanded his game unbelievably this season, entirely to the benefit of the Raptors.
He arrived as a young piece to be groomed, and no one knew how long it would take. He was Toronto’s key acquisition in the deal that sent Kyle Lowry to Miami because he was a young, athletic big man with what management saw as unlimited potential.
How quickly, or if, he’d realize that potential was the question and the concern.
The question, for now, has been answered; the concern is far less.
“I like the upward trajectory he’s on,” coach Nick Nurse said. “Now I see a guy who’s starting to grow in confidence about his place on our team in the league, and what he can do.”
Achiuwa’s been on a roll since the mid-February all-star break. He’s shooting 41.3 per cent from three-point range since then — 36.1 per cent for the season — and on a Raptors team starved for shooting and reliant on a bench comprised almost entirely of power forwards and centres, that’s a huge contribution.
It’s come not only because Achiuwa’s confidence is off the charts, but because his basketball IQ is growing along with his game. He knows now when to pick his spots and take his shots. Early in the season he was hell-bent on making big plays all the time, often too aggressive and too quick. He’s a better player today in part because he’s a smarter one.
“I think that’s all directly related to confidence, which is showing in quicker decision-making,” Nurse said. “I think we all go back and think about (times) he’d get it and we were never really sure what he was going to do.
“He still surprises us every now and then — but not as much as he used to — (and) I think he’s making better reads, quicker decisions. And that’s because he’s doing that stuff more confidently.”
It helps that Achiuwa’s teammates are seeing the benefits of his hard work and trusting his decision-making in games. Early in the season, they might have blanched at a guy who took one three-pointer in the entire 2020-21 season firing up a handful every night, but now they see him make them and take them in rhythm and it just feels right.
It certainly did in Saturday night’s rout of the Indiana Pacers, when he took and made three in the first 16 minutes as Toronto took early control.
“My teammates and coaching staff have told me whenever I’m free, I’ve got to shoot the ball,” he said. “Actually the first shot, I turned down one of them … We had a timeout and literally three guys on the bench are like, ‘You’ve got to shoot that, you have to.’
“This was before I made any of my threes. And when I came out after the timeout it was like, ‘OK, all right, I’m going to shoot it.’”
It remains to be seen how Achiuwa will handle the playoffs, and whether his new-found maturity and confidence will hold up in the intense games still ahead. He has no real post-season experience — three games and 12 minutes in total last season with the Heat — but he’s sure to be asked to play a significant role this spring with the Raptors.
“He’s really young and hasn’t played all that much basketball, so there’s still going to be these up-and-down swings; that’s just the way it is,” Nurse said. “But he’s coming out looking to … fire and run, get to his spots and stuff. So he’s building a level of confidence that he could be an impactful player on this team.”