The fourth quarter starts with Phoenix spamming three empty
corner ball-screens, all headlined by Cam Payne. On the first, he
comes off to his right and makes the one-pass-away swing to Landry
Shamet for a contested triple. On the next trip, Payne flows into a
contested pull-up with Fred VanVleet trailing him.
The shot misses, is rebounded by JaVale McGee, then kicked back
out to Payne. They do the dance again, with Payne touching the
paint on this one. A late switch is forced, with Precious Achiuwa
picking up Payne on the drive. He contests vertically, but Payne
gets a tough one to go.
My initial thought after the first minute of fourth quarter
play: Wow, that was a pretty quiet start for Achiuwa.
And I meant it in a good way.
It's not easy to defend three empty corner actions in a row
against an unpredictable spark plug like Payne, while also dealing
with the prospect of a lob threat like McGee getting behind you.
Those three trips ended with one shot at the rim made my brow
(That also gives me an excuse to drop this: 40 players have
defended at least 35 empty corner ball screens since the All-Star
break; only four bigs — Joel Embiid, Isaiah Jackson (!!!), Bam
Adebayo and Karl-Anthony Towns — have allowed stingier marks than
Achiuwa, per Second Spectrum.)
It seems counterproductive to appreciate a quiet aspect of
Achiuwa, but it's the mark of growth for Toronto's second-year big
The flashes have been loud; a grab-and-go sequence here; a
thunderous swat there; a poster dunk, just for funsies.
But then there's the other side: the wild passes, the
dribble-dribble-dribble-shoot isolations that garner slumped
shoulders from his teammates, the eagerness against ball fakes.
It's too early to say Achiuwa has put it together, but his
post-All-Star break stretch — and honestly, you can track the shift
back a little further — has been a step in the right direction.
In nine games since the break, he's averaging 12.8 points and
6.4 rebounds in a shade under 23 minutes per contest. He has the
second-best net rating (plus-1.2) among rotation regulars, trailing
only Malachi Flynn.
(Don't forget to set your cuckoo clocks forward an hour
In true Achiuwa fashion, his True Shooting percentage since the
break is both underwhelming (53.6, below league average) and a
massive improvement from his pre-break number (46.7). The boom in
efficiency can be explained by his three-point shooting; he's
drilled 46.2% of his triples on nearly three attempts per
He's been fruitful from the corners, but there's a little bit of
diversity present. He's firing off of pick-and-pops. He can space
in the corner, but has also shown the willingness to relocate to
remain in his driver's line of sight.
It would be irresponsible
to dub Achiuwa as a mid-40s three-point shooter, but his comfort is
worth monitoring. There's no hesitation in regards to the shot, and
his footwork and shot prep are fine in multiple contexts. If he can
cross the "reliable" threshold in the minds of defenses, that can
open up his driving game.
Full disclosure: I have no idea what to make of it right
He has legit ball skills, and a first step that can best most
centers in space. It helps him in grab-and-go situations after
defensive rebounds, and there's potential worth exploring in
half-court scenarios. This possession from Friday's action is
ringing in my head.
That's Achiuwa popping, pumping, then attacking McGee's top foot
and absolutely dusting him off the bounce.
That is also Achiuwa missing Thaddeus Young
as Bismack Biyombo rotates over, then getting swatted at the rim as
I'm not sure there's a larger gap between a player's perception
and their percentages than Achiuwa at the rim. You'd think a guy
with his athletic gifts and measurements would be an elite
finisher, but yet:
- He's converting 55% of his shots at the rim (7th percentile),
per Cleaning The Glass
- About those ball-skills: Achiuwa is shooting 37.5% (!) on shots
via drive since the All-Star break, one of the worst marks in the
- He gets blocked a ton: 14.2% of his shots at
the rim have been swatted, one of the
highest marks among qualified players (min: 1000 minutes) per PBP
Passing more would probably help these matters; he's only
passing on 10% of his drives since the
break, and rarely gives up the rock after offensive rebounds.
On the defensive end, Achiuwa has showcased high level
potential. He's incredibly switchable, able to mirror wings and
some guards in space while using his 7-3 wingspan as a buffer.
Darius Garland didn't have the best time earlier this week.
That switchiness allows the Raptors to flatten actions in the
half-court. Lineups featuring Achiuwa with their core four
(VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam) have
outscored teams by 5.5 points per 100 possessions behind a stingy
defense. Opposing offenses have a three-point rate of 29.1 with
that group on the floor, a mark that ranks in the 90th
While not a great rebounder himself, he does boost Toronto's
rebound rate by nearly three percentage points this
season. That number has become more stark since the
The case for starting Achiuwa is what he unlocks defensively,
and how his open-floor handling can further help the Raptors push
in transition. What's holding him back is his ability to cap or
continue possessions — the finishing has to be much better, and his
willingness to move the ball must improve.
I will say, Achiuwa doesn't seem far off. Even with his warts,
he's clearly the most talented of Toronto's actual centers. He
leads their big man room in fourth quarter minutes — late-game
trust matters more than jump-ball responsibilities, anyway.
Keep an eye on him.