Cheering News: Knicks’ Precious Achiuwa is making most of golden opportunity with New York…

Precious Achiuwa played a big role in the New York Knicks’ Thursday night win over the Philadelphia 76ers. But it wasn’t too long ago that Achiwua was merely an afterthought in a trade that was primarily about adding OG Anunoby.

Being underestimated must be frustrating to NBA players, all of whom are all elite at playing basketball. And yet Achiuwa, a 2020 first-round of the Miami Heat, has spent much of his professional career being underestimated.

Precious Achiuwa’s background

Memphis Tigers forward Precious Achiuwa (55) reacts in the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Fifth Third Arena

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Achiuwa entered the NBA a few years ago after one very successful season at Memphis, where he demonstrated his unique versatility to score (15.8 points per game) and rebound (10.8 rebounders per game). Pre-draft scouting reports mentioned his athleticism, defensive versatility, ability to handle, shooting form and motor on the offensive glass. He was described as a power forward who would be most successful if he could transition to the wing.

The MiamihHeat selected Achiuwa with the No. 20 overall pick of the 2020 draft. Unfortunately for Achiuwa, Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo held down the Heat’s starting frontcourt to begin his rookie season. Olynyk was dealt to the Houston Rockets in a midseason deal that returned Victor Oladipo, but the veteran presence of Trevor Ariza outweighed whatever pros coach Erik Sploelstra saw in Achiuwa. So, he waited.

Achiuwa was dealt to the Toronto Raptors in the 2021 offseason as part of a sign-and-trade that landed Kyle Lowry in South Beach. Though he didn’t become an everyday starter in Toronto, Achiuwa at least proved some of his value at the NBA level. While Achiuwa averaged only 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12 minutes in his rookie year with Miami, he averaged more than 9 points and 6 rebounds in more than 20 minutes per game in about one-and-a-half seasons with Toronto.

Pre-draft scouting reports prove correct

But it wasn’t until January, when Achiuwa was dealt to New York, that his talent really began to show. And even then, it took injuries to Anunoby and Julius Randle for him to get a real opportunity.

On January 29, in his 14th game as a Knick, Achiuwa entered New York’s starting lineup as the team’s power forward. Prior to that game, Achiuwa hadn’t logged more than 25 minutes in a game with the Knicks. Since January 29th, Achiuwa has not only remained in the starting lineup for 10 consecutive games (and counting), but he’s logged no fewer than 32 minutes. And he’s even spent some time as an undersized, 6’8 center.

The trade deadline addition of Bojan Bogdanovic hasn’t led to Achiuwa relinquishing his starting spot, either, despite the fact the Croatian sharpshooter is a natural stretch four. That speaks volumes of the confidence coach Tom Thibodeau has in Achiuwa.

Even better as a starter

New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) dunks the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center.

And that confidence is well-deserved. Since joining the starting lineup, Achiuwa is filling the stat sheet, averaging 14.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 40.4 minutes per game. Yes, Achiuwa is succeeding while playing over 40 minutes per game after averaging just 17.5 minutes through the first 25 games of the year with Toronto.

Achiuwa elaborated on his role with the Knicks on the MSG Network following Thursday night’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

“That just speaks to my versatility, being able to play multiple positions and also being able to guard multiple positions,” Achiuwa said. “Not just on offense, defensively I guard one, two, three, four, five. And that just goes to say about my versatility on both sides of the ball game.”

New York is likely to tender Achiuwa has a qualifying offer for next season worth $6.3 million, making him a restricted free agent. It’s fair to assume another team will offer Achiuwa a more lucrative deal, forcing the Knicks to match it lest lose him for nothing. So, Achiuwa will probably cost the Knicks more than $6.275 million next season. Alternatively, he can choose to play out the 2024-25 under the qualifying offer and enter unrestricted free agency after next season.

Precious Achiuwa is might not remain in the starting lineup after Anunoby returns. But he’s clearly been embraced by New York and its fan base, and he is most definitely no longer an afterthought—that much is for sure.

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