This is the Precious Achiuwa the Raptors were hoping for: How Knicks trade unlocked forward’s mesmerizing potential

There has never been a question of Precious Achiuwa’s talent. The 6-8 big man had flashes of superb play throughout his 153 games in a Raptors uniform. But more often than not, they would be followed by befuddling stretches of mistake-prone hoops. 

Achiuwa was thought of as little more than a throw-in as part of the O.G. Anunoby trade. The Knicks desperately needed big-man help after Mitchell Robinson’s potentially season-ending injury, and getting a player who could give them even a dozen or so minutes would be a huge win.

Achiuwa’s done way more than that, surprisingly turning into one of Tom Thibodeau’s most relied-upon players over the past two weeks. 

On Jan. 20, Achiuwa was thrust into a bigger spot in the rotation. He has averaged 9.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 30.9 minutes per game since then, including three starts. His impact on winning has been enormous — only Jalen Brunson and James Harden have a bigger plus-minus in the entire league in that span

Achiuwa logged a career-high 43 minutes in New York’s 109-105 win over the Pacers on Thursday, making up for the loss of Anunoby, Robinson, Julius Randle and Quentin Grimes. He has helped the Knicks become the hottest team in the association, as they’ve won 15 of the 17 games that he’s played in, including nine straight. 

Let’s check in on how Knicks fans, known for their calm demeanor, are handling the Achiuwa breakout: 

Here’s what has led to Achiuwa flipping the switch. 

MORE: Ranking All-Star injury replacements for Joel Embiid and Julius Randle

Precious Achiuwa is staying within his role on offense

Achiuwa’s biggest issue in the past is that he’s tried to do too much. Like many young players, his mistakes outweighed the flashes of brilliance. 

He’s looked more confident in a simpler role in New York. His job is to set good screens, shoot open jumpers, attack closeouts and, most importantly, wreck teams on the offensive glass.

The Knicks have been the best offensive-rebounding team in the league during this winning streak, led by Isaiah Hartenstein’s 3.6 per game and Achiuwa’s 3.1.

Achiuwa has also brought some energy to the team with his unique style. He has made the arena roar by diving between the legs of Pascal Siakam to secure a loose ballposting up in the middle of a fast break and making crazy facial expressions during games. 

It’s no wonder that Achiuwa has quickly turned into a Knicks fan favorite. 

MORE: LeBron’s agent addresses trade rumors involving Lakers superstar

Precious Achiuwa is realizing his defensive potential

Achiuwa has the skill set to be a massively impactful defender. He’s a great rebounder and a good athlete with a 7-foot wingspan. His performance on that end of the floor is what has earned him Thibodeau’s trust. 

He showed shades of on-ball stopper ability on Thursday, shutting down Siakam twice down the stretch of a close game.

First, Achiuwa got skinny to wedge himself around a handoff, shifted his hips and stuffed Siakam’s layup attempt. 

Precious locks up Pascal in the clutch

WOW pic.twitter.com/dnv6EKhit7

— Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) February 2, 2024

Achiuwa followed that up by tipping the ball into the basket for the Knicks, then poking the ball away from Siakam on the next trip down to seal the win. 

Siakam is far from the only star that Achiuwa has stopped during this recent stretch. A week earlier, he swallowed up Jimmy Butler on a fast break, forcing a jump ball on Butler’s one-on-one layup attempt. He also had to guard Lauri Markkanen, forcing him into a miserable 5-of-14 shooting night while doing the impossible and blocking the 7-footer’s jump shot.

Achiuwa is still prone to the occasional ugly offensive possession every game, but he’s cut down a lot on those mistakes in New York. He’s turning into the type of bruising, high-energy big man that embodies New York basketball. 

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