Precious Achiuwa playing like he's more than a trade 'throw-in' for Knicks

The Knicks stunned the basketball world as the calendar turned to 2024 when they traded RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley for OG Anunoby. It was a massive swing that looked to have hit its mark for about a month before a wave of injuries crushed their momentum.

But even amid the recent losses, their return on that trade looks increasingly better. That’s in large part thanks to Precious Achiuwa, one of the secondary pieces acquired by New York who has stepped up big time in his new threads.

The Miami Heat drafted Achiuwa, a dynamic 6-foot-8 big man, 20th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, shipping him off the next offseason in exchange for Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. He averaged 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 22.4 minutes a night over his two full Raptors seasons, providing a burst of energy whenever he’d sub in.

The knock on his game centered around his decision-making and offensive approach. Achiuwa was known for one or two knucklehead moments a game, and he tried to develop the ball-handling and jump-shooting part of his game in real time to mixed results.

He needed to simplify and play to Tom Thibodeau’s style as a Knick, which took some time. Even those who saw him as a potential boost to the big rotation were disappointed with the early results: 2.8 points in 11.7 minutes per game on 44.4 percent shooting through his first 10 outings in the blue and orange.

Still, the glimpses were there. His offensive rebounding meshed perfectly and he displayed the ability to play and guard multiple positions.

It’s all come together for him since then, right in time for the barrage of injuries hitting the Knicks. He’s developed the requisite chemistry and knows what Thibs expects of him -- and he's been invaluable to New York with Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims all missing games.

Feb 3, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.

In his last eight games, Achiuwa is averaging a ridiculous 41.6 minutes a night, putting up 14.5 points and 10.9 rebounds on 53.3 percent shooting from the field. Nobody has played more minutes and only two players have corralled more offensive rebounds in that stretch than the supposed throw-in.

Achiuwa has done it through a blend of effort, physicality and a surprising amount of grace in his hands and feet. Watch a rebounding battle with Achiuwa, and he’ll bulldoze his way through multiple bodies, get in a wide and low stance to secure position, leap beyond those of his size can normally do to get a hand on the ball and masterfully tap it where it needs to go.

His presence is just felt on the court. He sets strong screens, rolls hard and gets on a body when the ball goes up.

While he may lack an elite skill, he makes up for it by doing a little of everything. He’s able to switch and has looked comfortable guarding smaller players on the perimeter, free roam as a four, and for stretches looks the part as a rim-protecting five.

Offensively, he’s a lot more limited, getting his best production finishing around the rim, but getting there in a few different ways. He’s an effective scorer rolling off the screen and on putback attempts, but while playing the four he has thrown in timely cuts and is willing to shoot the three ball.

A lot of it is still a bit raw, like his in-between floater and playmaking ability, but he’s still confident going to those options, which suggests they could improve as the season progresses. They’re merely a bonus to the meat and potatoes of his game anyway, which is his defensive impact and rebounding effort.

Hopefully, he will maintain those contributions once the regular rotation guys begin getting healthy. Unfortunately, Achiuwa’s play hasn’t resulted in many wins lately, but with his help, the Knicks have been more competitive in games without five of their best guys than many would've expected.