After a headliner game one from Gabe Vincent against the USA on Saturday night, another unexpected Heat player broke-out on Monday evening for Nigeria. Precious Achiuwa has looked more and more comfortable as the minutes increase through this Olympic journey.
And this is just the beginning of this long off-season.
Vincent and KZ Okpala also had their moments, while Bam Adebayo and Team USA fell short yet again against Team Australia. So, even though we’re going to dive into a lot of Achiuwa’s offensive performance, let’s hop into the things that stood out from all four guys in Monday night’s matches…
Transition Body Control
One of Precious Achiuwa’s biggest issues in his rookie season was all about control. Both body control and ball control never seemed to be his strength, as transition offense usually resulted in an offensive foul, while passes in tight spaces always fell through his hands for a turnover.
But in the first two exhibition games, he’s controlling himself in every facet of the game at a high level. Looking at the first clip above, body control is definitely the most important, since his pacing being knocked down a few notches changes his offensive flow.
He grabs the rebound at the baseline, and the play doesn’t end until he touches the opposite baseline. I’ll touch on “point Precious” a little more down the line, but that’s not something to just skip over.
The best part about him beating all of the other defenders down the floor with some hesitation dribbles and long strides, is that he did it all with his off-hand. I didn’t think we would see that this soon with his strong hand, but that’s just the beauty of playing time for a young guy who hasn’t had an NBA off-season yet.
In the second clip above, another weakness of his game shows to be clearing up. Once again, he runs the floor with his off-hand, but his eyes are the part to watch. He’s no longer looking at the ball when running the floor, since instead his head is up, reading the defense and watching his teammates spacing.
As soon as the guy guarding Okpala in the dunker spot steps up, he throws him a perfect bounce pass for a nice up and under for a bucket. That is growth. Ball handling, body control, reading defenses. Those were all real issues with his game a few months ago, and it’s already showcasing major improvement.
Slower Screening, Quicker Rolling
I touched on Achiuwa’s screening briefly in my last piece, but getting a longer look at him shows this was no fluke. He set plenty of screens in Miami’s offense last season, but they didn’t always look great. For one, the timing and speed of the pick never looked to be in sync, since everything looked rushed offensively.
In the clip above, you can tell he’s much more focused on giving the ball-handler the correct angle instead of just going through the motions.
The second part of this is what occurs after the screen. It was clear that he was slipping way too many picks last season, mostly due to the fact that his skill-set lines up with rolling much more. He’s a pure athlete, and the gravity of a lob pass can bend a defense like no other.
In the first two games with Nigeria, I have not seen much of him slipping screens, and I think that’s more of a self realization than an offensive game-plan. Above, it’s not that they broke-down the defense into a perfectly executed 2 on 1. Instead, Achiuwa gets moving downhill at full speed, which allows the ball-handler to just throw it up somewhere around the rim.
It wasn’t the greatest pass, but vertical threats, as Coach Mike Brown called him after the game, can makes plays like this one when they’re playing a specific, and fitting, role.
More Shooting Flashes
Speaking of things Coach Mike Brown said about Achiuwa after the game, he mentioned that they encourage him to take that three-ball when his feet are set and he has enough space.
He’s done that confidently so far, knocking down yet another three against Argentina. When evaluating his full shooting skill-set, a lot of things just aren’t aligned. His free throw shooting has continued to be an absolute issue, while the three-ball looks as fluid as ever.
The reasoning for that is much more mental than it is physical. Physically, he has a very pure shooting motion with perfect form, good lower body positioning, and an outstanding flick of the wrist. Along with that, he’s also not thinking about his shot on those possessions, since he’s just letting it fly.
Free throws just aren’t as smooth looking. He’s not able to get the same type of lift, the form doesn’t always look the same, and well, the mental side just takes over. Time will only tell if that can be tweaked, but for now, the focus is on his outside shooting which looks like a brief preview to an even bigger expansion.
Point Precious? Off-Hand into On-Hand?
I showcased “Point Precious” earlier with the fast-break passing, but the part that’s even more intriguing is the amount of times that he’s the guy bringing the ball down. Receiving the inbound, crossing half-court with an immediate DHO, and much more.
On this possession, it’s a mix of that point guard trust, and just allowing his talent to takeover on the attack. Do you notice anything similar from earlier clips?
Well, I do.
That left hand seems to be the hand he’s most comfortable with. It’s not just fast-break lead dribbles, since he’s even driving with a purpose in the half-court utilizing his off-hand with both the dribble and the lay-in.
A lot of times we evaluate young player’s skill-sets in the big picture, discussing major parts of their game that need a major leap. But frankly, sometimes it’s more about minor improvements on the headliner parts of your game, while taking major leaps in the small areas. That’s what leads to a complete all-around player, and Achiuwa’s looking closer to that than ever.
Continued Ball Pressure
After watching KZ Okpala some more in increased minutes, some things really pop out defensively. The ball pressure stuff is a known things, but there are smaller points to make within that category.
Although he’s picking up smaller guys at the opposing baseline or half-court line every play, this possession displays the entire package. It isn’t just one thing that makes him a disruptive defender, since he just looks really complete on that end in every manner.
For one, his lengthy wingspan allows him to put pressure on the ball handler when they turn themselves this way. He can position himself to eliminate any drive-by’s, while jabbing the ball with his right hand to make him shift a bit before poking it out with the left hand.
While he looks like an inexperienced young guy on the offensive side of the ball, he looks like a seasoned vet defensively most possessions. The on-ball stuff looks perfect, while team defense still needs some improvement which only comes with game reps.
A lot of times, on-ball guys become on-ball watchers whenever they’re on the weak-side. That right there is Okpala, which can lead to a blown rotation or an easy back-door cut. That’s the reason he’s utilized as a perimeter stopper and defends the ball-handler at all times in both the Heat’s system and Nigeria.
Same Offensive Role, But Is It The Right Role?
Okpala’s role isn’t just a product of Nigeria’s offensive scheme. Aside from the fact that they’re basically running a Heat offense, Okpala continues to be utilized as a spot-up spacer in the corner and the wing.
He continued to struggle from the outside, until this sequence with back to back triples in the third. The first one occurred when the shot clock was expiring with a great contest, while the second one was just a transition filler.
Only 4 seconds into the shot-clock, he fired that wing three and knocked it down. If that can become his role consistently, then there’s definitely something there with an increased role. But should that be his role at this stage?
I’ve been a huge proponent of finding ways to get him downhill, which was his biggest offensive strength coming into the league and his body-type translates to that style of play. But the counter to that is this league just won’t allow 4’s to not be able to shoot, especially when playing next to a center who doesn’t shoot the three ball. (Yet)
In some ways, he has to figure out the shooting from the outside, but it’s clear that will have to be secondary in this league from a short-term sense. He can be very effective just with his defensive abilities that aren’t one bit overstated, but to stay on the floor in the NBA, somewhat of an offensive game must be mixed in.
After an outstanding game one from Gabe Vincent against Team USA, the shooting from the outside didn’t carry over early. On Saturday night, we saw him display pull-up shooting, some spot-up reps, and plenty of on-ball triples out of specific actions which I’ll dive into next.
But an added layer that was shown against Argentina was his movement shooting. From a Heat sense, movement shooting is one of the most important attributes, due to their motion offense and constant off-ball screening. In a bench role, there must be some way to replicate the sets they run for Duncan Robinson, and this type of stuff above relates to that.
A nice Okpala drive to the middle of the floor forces the defender to drop down off his man on the perimeter. That leads to them rotating into splitting the difference between the top of the key and the wing, leading into a very instinctive and smart play by Vincent.
Diving to the corner not only maximizes the spacing for a simple kick-out, but it forces that one defender to make a decision on who to cover. He trails Vincent but he’s not close enough as he lets it fly on the move in the corner. If that type of high difficulty shot is made regularly, his shooting from deep becomes much more lethal.
Perfecting the On-Ball Role
Something I highlighted in my last piece was something I asked Vincent after the season. He’s been a spot-up guy for most of his career, but was handed the keys to the offense in an on-ball role this past season. It wasn’t expected for him to be plugged into certain lineups and immediately run sets, but he did just that, which leads him into the next focus of his game.
When I asked him about focusing on that this Summer, he talked about this off-season becoming an important time for that, saying “that part of my game will need to grow, and will grow.” And these exhibition games are the perfect time for that.
In the clip above, we see Vincent flowing right into a simple PnR, with yet another patient screen from Achiuwa. It forces the 2 on 1, and Vincent feeds him the ball with that coveted pocket pass for yet another athletic Achiuwa slam.
Combining consistent shooting gravity with an ability to put the ball in the perfect spots of his teammates really changes things for his upcoming role in the NBA, but the key there will have to be consistency. This off-season should help that round into form organically.
Post Play into Face-Up Game
While it feels like I’ve been covering Nigeria more than anyone, we’ve gotta finish this off with Bam Adebayo’s play with Team USA. He was moved to the bench with Jayson Tatum, but still got plenty of minutes with a role player type responsibility. Coming in, we knew that he wasn’t going to be the go-to scorer, but we’ve still seen some offensive flashes.
I went into Adebayo’s post-up issues in the last piece, and that must be expanded on a bit after watching him in action again. Looking at both clips above, your takeaway may differ depending on how you look at it.
The first clip can be viewed as a tough turn-around jumper with a generous roll, which that face-up game will be a staple of his in the upcoming season. The second clip is pretty similar, since he was subbed in and immediately went into a face-up jumper off the back-board.
Although those plays could be looked at as a positive, it should once again be mentioned that he’s relying on that too heavily out of the post. He has the mismatch on Matthew Dellavedova, and picks up his dribble to find the kick-out option. When no one is open, he reverts back to the face-up shot that ultimately does end in points.
Will that be figured out by opposing defenses in the NBA? Most likely. It’s becoming a bit predictable that a couple post moves and a drop step won’t be mixed in a lot of the time, which will become the next step.
This isn’t a big deal, since this can pop up at any time once he masters the other areas of his game, but I do feel that we’re rapidly approaching the point when it becomes a necessity.
Pocket Pass Facilitator
After seeing him thrive with a pocket pass reception in the first match to try and score, these type of possessions prove that’s not the only case. Miami needing a point guard isn’t just to get Adebayo downhill to score. He’s a natural play-maker, and that will always be his play-style in this league.
Team USA’s offense hasn’t been clicking in the half-court. Points are being scored off isos, catch and shoot threes, and not much production out of any true sets. The times when certain actions became effective was when Adebayo got the pocket pass on the move.
They are forced to blitz Damian Lillard, leaving Adebayo in his most comfortable spot on the basketball court: middle of the floor with numbers. Tatum’s defender is forced to cut-off Adebayo on the move, leading to an easy bucket for Tatum off the Adebayo dish.
That’s where a point guard comes into play. It doesn’t just get Adebayo going, it allows Adebayo to get others going. Instead of him facilitating from out of his range or from the elbow as he faces the basket, mixing it up in this fashion can truly change a Heat offense.
It may be about Jimmy Butler’s timeline, but it’s mostly about Adebayo’s skill-set.
Everything Tradeshows is a one-stop-shop for trade show exhibit rentals and custom exhibit display purchase solutions to companies of all sizes.