The Toronto Raptors went 4-1 in the win/loss column during Summer League play, looking extremely dominant defensively. While Summer League play is not comparable to the grind that the actual NBA is, there are nuggets of wisdom that can be gleaned from these competitions, especially as it relates to Precious Achiuwa.
It’s obvious from the five games in Las Vegas that Achiuwa has tons of potential. When Achiuwa returned from the Tokyo Olympics with team Nigeria, his first Summer League appearance for Toronto resulted in a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. He followed that up with a cool 19 points against the Rockets.
Achiuwa does not have a large track record of NBA success, at least not yet. He was a 2020 first-round pick after his college career at Memphis, and averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per game as a rookie. There is a way for the Raptors to accelerate his development, at least for a short while.
Masai Ujiri himself has been quoted saying that development remains the top priority for this organization, behind winning of course. Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher, and the departed Norman Powell are the shortlist of stars that Toronto has produced in recent years.
What better way to start getting Achiuwa acclimated to life as a Raptor than by making him the starting power forward when Siakam is hurt, keeping Chris Boucher in his excellent Sixth Man role?
Siakam’s injury could help Precious Achiuwa star for the Toronto Raptors.
Raptors management didn’t acquire Achiuwa to rot on the bench long-term. If he acclimates to Nick Nurse’s system and develops his three-point shot, he can and will play. In the short term, there may be early season opportunities to insert Achiuwa into the lineup as a starter.
Siakam is in a five-month recovery from shoulder surgery he required in June, which places his recovery date sometime in early to mid-November. On November 15, the Raptors will be in Portland to face the Trail Blazers and former Raptor Norman Powell.
Depending on how ready to return Siakam is, it might be best to use this time to allow Achiuwa to learn, grow and get more involved in the process. Achiuwa is a big part of the team’s future, and the coaching staff needs to gauge his progress to determine his readiness and how reliable he is on the court.
Siakam, a rookie in the 2016/17 season, benefited from 38 starts. OG Anunoby stole the starting role as a rookie from Norman Powell in the 2017/18 season after the first 20 games. If Achiuwa is as dedicated to his development program as Siakam and Anunoby were, similar advancements could occur much sooner than expected for the recently acquired big man.
While Achiuwa might have more of a role as a small-ball center in the future, playing in Siakam’s role gives him a chance to use his blinding speed to blow by slower players at this position while outmuscling those smaller than him.
Summer League showed that he was working on improving his 3-point shooting, both off the dribble and while spotting up. If he manages to fix that, defenses should look out.
Scottie Barnes could easily be the future of the Raptors at that position, but considering that he is at his best with the ball in his hands, Toronto may decide to develop him as an oversized guard. Plus, the idea of letting Barnes commandeer the second unit offense may be better for him.
The Raptors are better off with Siakam available to play and start games (obviously), but development should be the priority while he’s recovering. In what appears to be a retooling year, learning what they have in Achiuwa should be an important task.
Achiuwa has all the tools needed to take a huge step forward and a coaching staff willing to let him turn it loose. How that impacts the Raptors on the court remains to be seen.