Right now, less is more for Precious Achiuwa.
After flashing everything the Toronto Raptors were looking for from their atypical center spot in the preseason, Achiuwa has come back down to earth in the regular season and hasn’t quite adapted to tougher defenses. He’s shooting just 45% in the restricted area, the worst of any player in the league attempting at least five shots in at the rim per game. Far too many of those shots have been ill-advised layups or jumpers against opposing centers with two or three inches on the 6-foot-9 Achiuwa.
On the other end of the court, Achiuwa’s rebounding and defensive positioning hasn’t quite been as steady as Toronto would like.
“He’s just a little out of character these last couple games, just doesn’t quite have it going on either end,” Nurse said Monday night.
Through seven games, Khem Birch, Toronto’s backup big, has a +36 plus-minus compared to Precious Achiuwa who sits at just +4. Birch has been a more steadying presence for the Raptors, setting tough screens, grabbing more rebounds, and playing within himself better than his sophomore counterpart.
“He was really good defensively, he was up on all the things. He was up on guys turning the corner, they really tried to stretch us out there for a bit where they really sent [Kemba] Walker, mainly, downhill as fast as he could to try to race by Khem and Khem kept making those shots hard. He didn’t get them all but he stopped quite a few of them,” Nurse said. “You saw he had a run of offensive rebounds that are really spirit-lifters, they keep the spirit high when a guy’s out-working them like that.”
Nurse is trying to get Achiuwa to that point. He said he spoke to the 22-year-old about playing with more consistency and trying to do the little things well before he branches out to the fast break, ball handling, and jump shooting Toronto was working on with him earlier in the year.
“We had a pretty good talk yesterday about, again, understanding what we need, what kind of effort and things we need defensively, and just again cleaning up some of these things on offense and just execution,” Nurse said. “Try to get him to focus on the things he can do every night. He can guard, he can rebound, he can screen, he can roll, he can put pressure on the rim. Sometimes that means four points and sometimes, some nights, that’s going to mean 20.”
Achiuwa isn’t going to have it every night, but Toronto is trying to raise his floor a little bit more so that he’s serviceable on those nights when things aren’t going his way.
“This is a long season and these guys are young, you can’t expect the same thing every night. Each game’s different and for me and him, I believe in him,” Nurse said. “He’s got talent all over the place and just gotta wash those two games away, get him back playing, get his confidence back up.
“He’ll be all right, we’ll get to work a bit and refocus a little bit.”