We’re starting up a new article series to kick off the off-season.
With plenty of time to look forward into free agency, first off we must discuss this past roster, evaluating the season’s that each player had, while also addressing the next step, or even the next team, of each individual.
So, let’s make our way up the roster, starting with a guy who just wrapped up his rookie season, Precious Achiuwa.
It’s been quite the introduction to the league for Achiuwa, joining a team that he was previously rooting for while they were going toe to toe in the NBA finals against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. No true off-season, no Summer League, no normality.
That’s just been the motto of everybody throughout this unique season. Not only did Achiuwa have to get through all of that, but then he was forced to back-up one of the league’s most promising young big men, Bam Adebayo.
A bench role is not something Achiuwa has ever had. Not in middle school, not in travel ball, not in high school, not in college. But he was forced to adjust rather quickly.
He had some good moments, but ultimately the inexperience was shining through with the team’s hopes of making a playoff run. The addition of some veterans left Achiuwa observing from the sideline, and well, these few months may be the most important part of his young career.
So, let’s hop right into those highs and lows from his rookie year…
Above the Rim Roller
It’s important to start off with Achiuwa’s most known offensive skill, and truthfully, one that I didn’t expect to become effective this soon.
This play above was the final basket from the Miami Heat’s season, meaning many Heat fans may have already changed the channel after a disappointing loss that completed the sweep by the Milwaukee Bucks. But take a look back at this possession for a second, since even though it didn’t hold high importance, it shows a flash for the future of Achiuwa.
Once again, Achiuwa hasn’t been used much up to this point of the playoffs, which is why a key component of a player’s mindset is their IQ of plays no matter if there is only 20 seconds left on the clock before elimination.
He sets the off-ball screen, resets and receives the ball for a DHO and screen back in that direction. He dives quickly and receives the ball in motion to throw it down. He’s had plenty of these sequences this season where he’d throw down a lob, but none of them looked this polished.
There always seemed to be a minor error, either in the ball screen or the pivot into the dive, which frankly is normal for a rookie. The thing is that some time on the sideline, and most likely more time in the film room, has already prepared him for a hopeful leap this off-season.
His rolling ability was noticed as soon as he hit the hardwood back in December, but he never seemed to have the pacing down. And the more reps that he’s gotten, the more the pacing is slowed down. If he rounds out some others parts of his offensive game, this base leads to a very intriguing prospect moving forward.
Battling on the Offensive Boards
Achiuwa is not your traditional center. He’s also not your traditional stretch big. Although he lacks a ton of size and range, one thing that you know you’re getting with him is constant fight on the offensive boards.
The efficiency stat may look a little weird at times for a guy who doesn’t shoot from the outside, but that’s because of second efforts. He may miss the first or second tip in around the basket, but there’s always that feeling that he’s going to get it in there somehow with the way he fights.
Something he will need to be a bit smarter with on those plays is just securing the ball and resetting offense. There were plenty of instances where he would basically try and score until the other team had possession. That can’t be the case, but also, these are rookie examples.
The next, and final, strength basically ties into this, since I believe that type of play is just in him, and won’t go anywhere. Looking back to high school, ESPN’s Paul Biancardi, who watched him from junior year on, told me that the two things that have stuck out to him most over the years, were energy and rebounding.
And well, those two things go hand in hand when looking at the clip above. He takes the contact, lands, and immediately explodes back up for the tip-in in traffic.
And well, speaking of exploding….
Another thing ESPN’s Biancardi told me before the season about Achiuwa, is that he is an incredible athlete. We got an introduction to that at times with the high bounce off the short roll, but take this play above as an example.
Yeah, he may not have been able to throw it down, but there are only a few players that are capable of putting themselves in a position to possibly catch a body in that regard. As that possession showed, there is no doubt in my mind that he has quite the explosiveness attached to his offensive game.
The reason that it’s essential is not just because of possibly making the SportsCenter top 10, as seen here, but more importantly, the way it opens up his game once he has an entire offensive package in his sophmore season.
There are times when that explosive fire is great, but well, there are also times when it’s his biggest downfall…
Once again, when pointing out weaknesses in rookies, the same takeaway occurs: uncomfort, inexperience, and too fast.
This clip here is not a one time occasion for Achiuwa, since it was a recurring theme whenever he had a chance to get out on the floor. It mostly occurred in these small stretches at the end of games, which makes sense since he’s trying to use his time wisely to make plays and prove himself.
The issue is that doesn’t wow coaches at these points of the game. What actually wows them is smart basketball, slow paced sets, and a polished game-plan, which is exactly what we saw in that first clip from the final possession of game 4 in the post-season.
The upcoming events this off-season will be crucial for him to get some reps as a player that can go all game playing under control, especially knowing that the ball must find your ball-handlers in transition. The Heat coaching staff wants to see Adebayo-like finesse on the break, instead of Derrick Henry trucks as we’ve seen throughout the year.
Free Throw Shooting
This weakness is one that many are aware of in the coaching staff, as well as Achiuwa himself. 110 free throw attempts this season, while only making 56 of them. A 51% free throw shooter just won’t cut it at the big man position, especially when evaluating the upcoming leaps in his game.
When players have free throw shooting issues, it’s either they’re incapable and uncomfortable of shooting the ball in general, or it’s a mental game. For Achiuwa, it’s the latter, since he’s proved to have some soft touch whenever he gets to his spots without thinking.
That’s something I’ve discussed about Adebayo, who is a great free throw shooter, but he shoots best when he isn’t reluctant and doesn’t overthink it. Same goes for Achiuwa.
This is not a mechanical issue whatsoever, since he’s been able to knock down free throw after free throw in practices before. If he can overcome that mental obstacle, which isn’t an easy thing to hurdle over, that’s yet another expansion that can be made for his offensive game.
When the Heat drafted Achiuwa, they envisioned a guy that can mirror some of the things their starting center, Adebayo, can do, instead of the traditional big that they always go away from but find themselves back with eventually.
There was only one issue to that comparison to Adebayo: he doesn’t have anything close to the passing gift.
For one, it’s not normal for bigs to be able to pass like Nikola Jokic or Adebayo, so holding young guys to that standard is unfair. But yet, average as a passer is a good bar for him to set at this period of time.
This clip shows that he doesn’t have great touch or timing on passes for cutters, but that’s not even the biggest instance that stuck out. A team that heavily based themselves around dribble hand-offs needs to have a center that can hand it off, but that was an issue early on.
I’ve mentioned the word comfort a few times, and that was an area that he showed zero comfort with early in the season. To push this back into a positive direction, go back and watch that first clip I inserted earlier of that final possession. A nice looking hand-off led to that dunk off the lob, and that’ll be necessary if he envisions himself getting major playing time in the near future.
Now, the “what’s next” feature in this series can touch on a variety of things. It could be the next part for a player in free agency, the next improvement, among other things.
Clearly, Achiuwa is one of the few players under contract for next season, meaning we don’t need to discuss that. It can be mentioned that he has some potential that many teams are aware of, so if a trade is made during the off-season to improve this team, he could very well be included in that type of deal to get it done.
Other than that, what is next for Achiuwa is the continued development and growth of his game. This will be a busy Summer for him, as he could get plenty of playing time if he chooses to play for Nigeria in Tokyo, and then Summer League down the line in August.
When Achiuwa talked about the part of his game that he will focus on this off-season, he responded, “My jump shot is gonna be a big emphasis this summer.”
I always say that it’s more important to make the things you’re good at great than to expand range, but I feel like there’s an exception for him. As stated earlier, he’s an undersized big, and I think he realizes that his biggest chance to be successful in this league will be to develop that Adebayo mid-range as quickly as possible.
And yet, there will be a ton of stages to see that progression with him over the next few months, so it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Many are discussing the possible additions of a big in free agency, while the expectation is that Dewayne Dedmon will return. But don’t forget about the second year version of Achiuwa, since the positive signs he showed in his rookie campaign can very well carry over. And Coach Spo will not be shy to throw him into the fire once again.