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2020 NBA Draft Profiles: Precious Achiuwa

We lead off with an early favorite for steal of the draft!

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2020 NBA Draft. First up, a familiar face in Precious Achiuwa of the Memphis Tigers.

PRECIOUS ACHIUWA: Forward/Center, University of Memphis

  • 6’9”, 223 lbs, 20 years old, from the Bronx, NY
  • One season at Memphis: 30.4 minutes per game, 15.8 points per game on 49.3% shooting (32.5% from three, 59.9% from the free throw line), 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.1 steal, 1.0 assist
  • THREE ADVANCED STATS OF STRENGTH (per Defensive Rating (82.5), Usage (27.7%), Defensive Box Plus Minus (+5.9)
  • THREE ADVANCED STATS TO IMPROVE: True Shooting Percentage (53.4%), Projected NBA Three Point Range (31.2%), Offensive Rating (101.3)
  • ACCOLADES: 2019-2020 AAC Player of the Year, All-Freshman Team, Rookie of the Year, 1st Team All-AAC.
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 45th overall (Tankathon), 21st overall (Ringer), 12th overall (ESPN), 31st overall (CBSSports), 14th overall (The Athletic)

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “maybe I missed a trade? Did the Grizzlies get a late lottery pick somewhere?” Perhaps you bleed Tiger blue and are offended that the player that stepped up quite impressively in the absence of James Wiseman and earned all the accolades he was supposed to get in his one year at Memphis is being discussed in this space. The truth is, Achiuwa may well be a lottery pick...but he also may free fall in a similar fashion to Brandon Clarke a year ago.

Remember, Clarke was arguably the 2nd best player in all of college basketball during the 2018-2019 season. Yet he was there for the Grizzlies to trade up for in last year’s draft, making him the steal of the festivities last summer. Now, Precious comes along with a remarkable defensive skill set but questions about what he brings to the table beyond that at the NBA level. Could that result in him falling to #40 overall? It seems unlikely. But considering Memphis is very much in talent acquisition mode, if Achiuwa tumbled too far it may well be worth it to the Grizzlies to spend some of their acquired draft capital to move up and snag him.

What he does well

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, if you’re looking to build an elite defensive front court long-term Precious would be a hell of a selection. A day will likely eventually come where Jonas Valanciunas is no longer with the Memphis Grizzlies. As Jaren Jackson Jr. transitions to center and Brandon Clarke to a (theoretical) starting role, Achiuwa taking on that sixth man/third big job would make the Grizzlies that much more dangerous in terms of switchability and rim protection. He is long (7’2” wingspan) and is a physical specimen with the athleticism necessary to not only switch on to guards when necessary, but defend every front court position consistently.

His skill set is malleable, meaning he can fit in lots of lineups because of his defensive versatility and pick and roll aggression/screen setting. He in lots of ways is similar to Clarke - he doesn’t have elite size but more than makes up for it in lateral foot speed and explosiveness above the rim. Combine that with the flashes he shows above of attacking off the dribble with the ball in his hands, and you can see why several big boards have Achiuwa at the end of the lottery.

Where he can improve

NCAA Basketball: South Florida at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The similarities to Clarke don’t end at what he does well. The questions around him - aside from age, where Achiuwa is a few years younger - are also the same. While Precious projects as a very good defender from the beginning in the NBA, what he does well offensively at this level is in question. Flashes of creativity off the dribble is nice, but against AAC competition it would make sense that a top level recruit could take advantage of his physical gifts in that way. It won’t be as simple in the NBA. Achiuwa struggled from the free throw line, and between that and his below average three point shooting his ability to space the floor is unclear to an extent as well.

In a lot of ways, he was a victim of Wiseman leaving the Tigers after the issues he had with the NCAA. Precious clearly forced things at times in Memphis, shown by his 87 turnovers, and his facilitation/creation of offense for others leaves much to be desired (only 30 assists on the season). Sure, that’s not his primary role, but if you’re using a late lottery selection on a player you need him to contribute right away in a number of ways. There’s evidence to suggest that Achiuwa could benefit from some seasoning/fine tuning. He’s far too focused on what is right in front of him when he has the ball, or as a player defensively, and doesn’t prioritize the space and teammates around him enough.

The fit

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming Precious falls a bit down the draft and is available in the early 20’s, for the Grizzlies to make a move to acquire him would take them understanding what was stated above - elite physical gifts but perhaps not ready to contribute at a high level right now. The good news is that Memphis doesn’t need him to. Gorgui Dieng is still on the roster, in addition to Jaren/Brandon/Jonas Valanciunas. Kyle Anderson can play the “4” position as well, so Achiuwa could take a year to find his footing in practice and NBA garbage time minutes. Then, when Dieng (presumptively) walks in free agency in the summer of 2021, Precious will be in place to take on that 4th big role.

The following year, in 2022? Precious would enter his third year in the NBA taking on the role that Brandon Clarke would’ve filled the previous two seasons if Valanciunas is gone (assuming he isn’t traded before then). By then perhaps the shooting stroke is cleaner, his commitment to consistent defensive energy and scheme is much more clear, and he dominates NBA reserves in a similar fashion to Montrezl Harrell. This front office has shown a distinct willingness to play the long game.

A Jackson Jr./Clarke/Achiuwa front court could be a force for the Grizzlies for years to come.

The Verdict

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Memphis Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies “need” another big, and there aren’t many better than Precious Achiuwa in this draft. Some big boards have Precious as a top-5 type of big man, along the lines of an Obi Toppin and even James Wiseman himself. A player of his caliber doesn’t fall down the draft often...but it did happen just a year ago. So the possibility exists.

However, Achiuwa is too talented to make it to #40 overall. The Grizzlies will have to trade up, and Memphis will have to gauge just what would be worth moving up to acquire a later 1st round pick that almost certainly would be necessary to acquire Precious. Multiple 2nds would probably be the floor, and considering other bigs should be available around where Memphis selects that have some floor spacing capabilities like Dieng does, that may be too high a cost to pay.

Expect Precious Achiuwa to be taken in the final third of the 1st round, by a team that isn’t the Memphis Grizzlies.

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