Toronto Raptors: Could Precious Achiuwa start over Khem Birch?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 23: Reggie Perry #0 of the Brooklyn Nets heads for the net as Precious Achiuwa #5 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 23: Reggie Perry #0 of the Brooklyn Nets heads for the net as Precious Achiuwa #5 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors acquired a very intriguing piece for the future this offseason, as the same sign-and-trade arrangement that sent Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat allowed Masai Ujiri to pick up a very intriguing frontcourt piece in Precious Achiuwa. The 2020 first-round pick will compete for playing time behind Khem Birch.

While Achiuwa stands just 6-8, his wingspan, athletic ability, and bulk enable him to defend multiple positions with ease. A member of Team Nigeria during the Olympics, coach Mike Brown compared his style of play to Draymond Green, which is exactly the kind of praise Toronto wants to hear.

Achiuwa will likely begin the season as the backup center, as Birch’s exceptional play during his cameo with Toronto last year earned him a three-year contract worth $20 million. However, the Raptors didn’t acquire Achiuwa to have him be a six-point, four rebound per game guy off of the bench.

The Raptors will eventually move Achiuwa and No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes into the lineup, but that switch may come a bit sooner than many anticipated if the former Memphis star starts to improve his offensive game at the clip Toronto expects. Is there a chance we see Achiuwa taking Birch’s job sooner rather than later?

Will the Toronto Raptors start Precious Achiuwa over Khem Birch?

Achiuwa averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game with Miami last year. While those numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, that’s due to the fact he was playing behind one of the best centers in the game in Bam Adebayo.

Birch, meanwhile, averaged 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game following a buyout that ended his tenure in Orlando.

If you want immediate impact and a more traditional low-post center, Birch is your man. However, considering the fact that Toronto has placed as high a premium on versatility, defensive fluidity, and positionless basketball as any team in the league, that could give Achiuwa the edge.

Achiuwa has already proven at the collegiate, Summer League, and professional levels that he can attack the basket, handle the ball, and that could help a quality defender like Precious work his way into the lineup.

With Birch a liability from behind the arc, and the Raptors potentially believing that a reliable jump shot could be the key to unlocking Achiuwa’s true potential, getting that ability to shoot might be what finally tips the scales in his favor.

How could Nick Nurse justify putting a 6-8 center with handles, supreme defensive skills, and a 3-point shot on the bench?

Achiuwa has legit star potential, even if he might need some patience to iron out the wrinkles. If he hits his developmental stride, a player making under $7 million per year in Birch is not going to obstruct him.

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