One of the leading stories this season for NCAA basketball, other than the games being shut down in mid March, was the saga of James Wiseman. Once regarded as the top prospect by far in the class, Wiseman’s questionable interactions with coach Penny Hardaway lead to a suspension and ultimately a withdrawal from Memphis, leading to his stock dropping as low as 9th on Jonathan Wasserman’s draft board. Memphis wasn’t suddenly out of a competitive team, though, Precious Achiuwa stepped up and led the team.
Though not as famous as Wiseman, Achiuwa was also a highly regarded recruit, leading the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game in scoring with 22 points and nine rebounds (five on offensive). Outside of Wiseman’s three games with the team, Achiuwa led a Memphis team in points, rebounds, and minutes, a solid rock of consistency as 11 of the 13 rostered players started a game. No other player started every Memphis game. Yet, Achiuwa was considered to be a likely lottery pick by a few sources in fall 2019. So why are we still covering Achiuwa with our pick sitting at #23?
Per game: 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.9 blocks, 2.8 turnovers, 49.3/32.5/59.9 shooting splits
Advanced: 53.4% True Shooting, 5.8 box plus-minus (2.5 offensive, 3.4 defensive), .187 win shares per 40
Physical: 21 years old (turns 22 next September), 6’9” with a 7’2” wingspan, 225 pounds
Achiuwa has a lot of strengths going for him as a prospect. Fantastic athleticism laterally and vertically contribute to his ability to be a great defender, rebounder (especially offensively, where he had 3.0 per game), and rim runner. His handle is very good for a player of his age and size, and Achiuwa does a great job exploding to finish alley oops and dump-off passes. At the same time, he also showed finesse when necessary, to angle the ball in over defenders after offensive rebounds or drives. But where he shined the most was in transition, being able to grab rebounds and go, either handling the ball himself, delivering a great outlet pass, or sprinting full force down the court. Achiuwa scored 1.063 points per possession (PPP) when running in transition (61st percentile), per Synergy.
On the other side of the ball, because Wiseman played such few games, Achiuwa spent most of the time playing center for Memphis. In spite of his less filled-out frame, Achiuwa did admirably, using his body and length to block shots (1.9 a game), provide great help defense, and defend in space on switches. This season, Achiuwa allowed just 0.715 points per possession, or PPP (83rd percentile in the NCAA), ranked second in the country for defensive win shares, and ranked second in the country for defensive rating. Because of this, Achiuwa may be able to play three positions (both forward and center) at a high level in the NBA.
Achiuwa also has many significant weaknesses, primary among these is his shooting. The numbers aren’t great: only 51.4% on two pointers despite being Memphis’s main big man. His three point shooting was disappointing, at only 32.5%, and the roughly 60% on free throws is a big red flag. Achiuwa’s form isn’t terribly bad, but it seems to be inconsistent, which may be related to his generally inconsistent footwork. This really shows through per Synergy’s “guarded” versus “unguarded” statistic: Achiuwa scored 1.5 PPP (93rd percentile) when he was left open, but just 0.167 PPP (1st percentile) when guarded. It’s disappointing for a player who can attack closeouts so well from his position, but that literally bottom of the barrel production when guarded is a massive red flag.
A secondary related issue is his shot selection. Memphis allowed Achiuwa to handle the ball a significant amount, including on the perimeter. While perhaps a good choice to exploit slower forwards and centers in the NCAA, his shooting off the dribble was horrendous and led to many long twos and missed shots, scoring only 0.74 PPP on all jump shots (25th percentile) and 0.607 PPP on dribble jumpers (24th percentile).
Other significant flags are his relatively high turnovers (2.8 per game), which can be attributed to the significant amount of ball handling he did, and the fact that he ranked only in the 46th percentile as the roll man this season with 0.965 PPP. While this was his first time playing as a center against real competition, he’ll need to get much better as a roll man to play to his athletic strengths in the NBA.
Finally, another notable fact is Achiuwa’s age. He’s already 21 years old, on the older end for a current college junior despite having finished his freshman year in college last May. So while being physically more mature than his academic cohort can explain his athletic dominance, Achiuwa is coming in at a deficit relative to competitive experience.
I’m not as high on Achiuwa as some are, finding prospects like Paul Reed (just 3 months older) and Jalen Smith (6 months younger) superior. He feels like too much of a tweener with bad shooting fundamentals and questionable decision making, even if the defense will likely translate over well. Now, if the Jazz can coach him to stop taking shots off the dribble, focus on catch and shoot (especially from the short corners), and clean up his mechanics, he might actually be able to reach his ceiling. But the number of red flags are likely why he’s slipped relative to his incoming freshman year rankings. If he’s around at 23, I might give Achiuwa a flyer, but there’s other big men I’d put higher on the priority list.
Stats from NBADraft.Net and Sports Reference. Shot chart from NBA.com. More great reading can be found in this HashtagBasketball article.