At times last season Precious Achiuwa’s erratic play became a bit of a running joke with Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse. The fourth-year coach would laugh it off as growing pains, the cost of giving freedom to Toronto’s sophomore forward.
You never know what you’re going to get when Achiuwa catches the ball, Nurse would say with a smirk.
Early in the season it was typically more bad than good from Achiuwa. The 22-year-old forward would usually drive head down into a contested shot or make some other ill-advised decision. The defense was typically there but the offense was rough, to put it mildly.
But then came the All-Star break, a somewhat surprising trip to the Rising Stars Challenge, and, as Achiuwa’s longtime trainer Kenneth Miller said, a newfound confidence for the young Raptor. From late February on, Achiuwa hit a stride and didn’t look back. His three-point percentage took off, his decision-making was more refined, and his offense was much improved.
“I think kind of after the all-star break … he got a good feeling like, okay, I feel like I can fit here, I belong here,” Miller said. “That was a coming-out party for him, and he’s just been building on it ever since.”
The past few months have been all over the map for Achiuwa who has been back and forth between the United States, Canada, and a trip home to Nigeria, his first since moving to North America. He’s been in the gym regularly, working with Raptors coaches and Miller to take his game to another level after a promising sophomore season.
So what’s next? Miller caught up with AllRaptors on Wednesday morning to detail what the two have been up to this summer.
(This interview has been edited for clarity)
What has the plan been for you and Precious this summer?
It was a mix of a couple of different things. … We watched a lot of film, studied, kind of picked at his flaws, where he could get better at finishing run around, handling the ball, creating his own shot off the dribble, whether it be for himself or for his teammates , and just being in the best possible shape. He felt like he could have been in better shape towards the end of the year.
Has he improved in those areas?
He has looked amazing. … The handle has improved a lot. Finishing around the rim looks really good. Playing off angles and creating his own shot off the dribble. He’s looking good, man. He’s been putting in a lot of work, dedication, early mornings, late nights, taking care of his body, doing all the necessary things to take a bigger step this coming year.
What has his three-point shot looked like lately?
It’s looking really good, man. … He’s been shooting it really good, working on it every day, just trying to get a higher percentage.
How are you working on his decision making this summer?
Well, it just paces, man. You study film, we get in the gym and with his coaches and myself. We work on playing with pace, making quick decisions, knowing when to make quick decisions, and when to make a decision where you’ve got to pass and get off the ball.
What was the difference between Year 1 with Miami and his sophomore season in Toronto?
I just think going into (his rookie season), coming off a COVID year, that process, it was tough for him. So going into Miami, they wanted to speed things up. You gotta come in ready to rock and roll and it wasn’t that he wasn’t necessarily ready, but the learning curve was a bit steep and I think he didn’t have the wiggle room to maybe make mistakes or get over certain things . I think it was just a humbling experience for him. He needed that and I think it just carried good momentum into Toronto because he walks in with a chip on his shoulder, he’s ready to work, he’s more prepared, and the good thing about P is he’s not going to allow for something bad to determine who he is. He’s going to accept whatever challenge comes his way. He’s going to do whatever he can to make an adjustment and to get better in the moment.
Do you think the confidence from last year will make next season even better?
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I think based on the work and what I’ve been seeing for the most part with the coaching staff, you’re going to see a lot, a lot, a lot of that this year, man, a lot more of it. Raptors fans should be very excited for him because I think it’s gonna be a coming-out party for him. I think he’s gonna make a lot of noise. He’s gonna surprise some people because I think right now people don’t really know who Precious Achiuwa is, like, they got glimpses of, you know, this kid could be good, maybe he could be a really good role player, but I think this year he’s gonna really put some people on notice of how hard he works, what he can bring to the table, how versatile he is as a basketball player defensively and offensively.
What do you think he learned from going up against Joel Embiid in the playoffs?
Being able to guard an MVP type of player like a Joel Embiid, that boosts his confidence to another level too. It’s like if I can kind of like hold my own with this guy and I could get better at that, the sky’s the limit. So he looks at moments like that as like, I’ve got to come back better and better and better so I’m more prepared for those moments.
How does he balance being versatile enough to switch onto guards while also strong enough to take on the league’s biggest bigs
I just think having good core strength. For him, he’s not too big to where his balance is off and he’s big enough to where he can hold his own against a guy that maybe seven feet. And with the way the NBA is playing today, nowadays you have Nikola Jokic, you have Joel Embiid, you have Anthony Davis, those guys kind of want to put the ball on the ground. So he’s tailor-made to guard those types of bigs. … I think that’s what makes P so special is because he can do that. He’s agile enough to where he could guard a guard and he has the core strength to where he’s like he could bang and get down low with the Joel Embiids and the Andy Davises and the Nikola Jokics if he has to.
Is he happy with the role he has in Toronto?
He wants to fit in. … He understands the organization he’s in and what they want from him and he knows he just has to be the best version of himself and fit in with those other guys. … I think that’s something he talks about is, like, if I could fit in and still make an impact, you know, he can only help the team be better.
I think the Raptors should consider starting Precious next season and potentially move Gary Trent Jr. to the sixth-man spot. Do you think that precious is ready for a move like that?
I think he would fit. I like Gary Trent too, though, man. I think Gary Trent is really good. … I think I would love to see P in the starting five. I think he’s ready for that moment. I think he gives them that dynamic edge that they could use. I would hate to see anyone lose their spot but speaking on behalf of P, I would love to see him in that spot and I definitely think he’s ready for that role to start with those guys and come out the game ready to get the flow and the tempo up and ready up and going. I definitely think he’s ready for that moment.
What should Raptors fans be most excited for?
Man, a lot of excitement, a lot of highlights. He’s looking to make a name for himself and fitting into whatever the Raptors need him to do to win. I know he’s gonna give everything he can to winning games and, I’ll say this, man, the stuff that he’s been working on, when I first seen him this summer after not being with him for a couple of weeks or whatever, he looked amazing, man. The coaching staff has done a great job. They’re developing him to be the best. …I think he’s ready for the moment. This is going to be a big year for him and I think the Raptors fans should definitely be excited about what he’s gonna bring to the table this year. A lot of excitement, a lot of winning basketball, winning plays, winning mentality and stuff you guys have already seen, the dunks, the knock-down threes, the high energy, a lot more that stuff, but even better.
I know being traded last summer made him worried about ever getting too settled in a city, but has he allowed himself to embrace Toronto?
Man, I think he loves it there. I think this is kind of one of those situations where it’s kind of too good to be true right now. You know, Masai Ujiri, they have a relationship, they’ve been knowing each other for a long time. Rico Hines, … he’s been around P since he was younger as well. … I just think it’s a great fit. It’s a great organization. He loves it there. He loves the city. He loves playing for Nick Nurse, speaks really highly of Nick Nurse, one of his favorite coaches he’s probably ever had in his entire life. And I think he’s looking forward to giving him his all, man, and represent for the Raptors. I think that’s something he’s really taking pride in right now.
What is it about Nick that he loves so much?
He loves how he pushes him, man. He knows the game. He puts him in spots where he could be successful and he likes the fact that Nick encourages him to be him, you know, let them play. He doesn’t like, say, this and that, like Nick is very supportive of who P is. At the same time, he’s going to teach him, he’s going to coach him, but he likes the fact that he helps his confidence, he’s giving him the ability to show what he can do.
Is there anything else Raptors fans should know?
I think definitely should be excited, man. I know this guy has been putting in some serious work. He looks a sh*t ton better from the last time I’ve seen him, from the end of the season to now and I know how much time and effort he’s really put into it and I think at this point, he’s just ready to just show what he’s capable of.