Precious Achiuwa’s NBA career began with the Miami Heat and fans must have felt like their team had snatched another future All-Star big after watching Bam Adebayo mature into one of the league's most promising players.
Adebayo’s hard work and his willingness to buy into the famed “Heat culture” has paid off handsomely as he made the All-Star team in 2020, has been named to two NBA All-Defensive Teams, and landed a rookie max. The forward was pretty impactful for the Heat, helping them to the NBA Finals last year, the team’s first since LeBron James returned to Cleveland. He also returned to Team USA after being cut previously to help bring Olympic Gold home from Tokyo this summer.
When the Heat drafted Achiuwa at 20th overall in 2020, it was expected that he would have been molded into yet another young star. After all, Miami has made household names out of undrafted players; imagine what they could do with first-round picks.
Unfortunately for Precious, things didn't work out that way and he was part of the package that saw Kyle Lowry move from the Toronto Raptors to Miami in August. It’s going to be an interesting year for the Nigerian power forward but a year in Miami will prepare just about anyone for the rigors of the NBA once they’re willing to endure the grind.
“When you’re a rookie coming into all of this, everything is new to you,” he told Sports Illustrated in a recent interview. “The way those guys approached the game… they came in and worked in practice, workouts, games… they helped me appreciate the little things about the game.
“I wanted to be mentally tough. You’re not going to make every shot in the workout but being mentally tough, pushing through when you’re fatigued and getting more reps of the same things over and over until it becomes second nature, that’s how you build habits.”
Adebayo turned out to be one of Achiuwa’s mentors in South Beach and having the no-nonsense Jimmy Butler as a teammate didn’t hurt either.
Precious Achiuwa did some pretty cool stuff offensively today, including 3 pull-up jumpers pic.twitter.com/pkhutmWAWN— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) October 5, 2021
“Bam [Adebayo] was one of the first guys to reach out to me about workouts and telling me what coaches were looking for being that played the same position,” he revealed. “Jimmy [Butler] and the other vets helped me understand how to be a pro and I will forever cherish that."
Achiuwa had a pretty rough introduction to life as an NBA player. He wasn’t able to get a full college season under his belt as the pandemic forced changes to the NBA season, with the draft also being pushed back.
“Everything happened so fast,” he explained. “One day I was getting ready for the draft, then training camp and the next thing I know, I'm playing on Christmas Day. I grew up watching basketball on Christmas Day with my family. …I remember talking to the vets on the team and them saying ‘this isn’t how the NBA usually is for a season, but this was all that I knew.’”
He was thrust into a squad led by Butler and Adebayo also boasting wily veterans such as Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic, and Jae Crowder while younger hotshots Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson had already made their own waves in the NBA. The Heat, scorned by their 4-2 defeat in the Finals, were looking to run it back but neither they nor the Los Angeles Lakers were able to make it past the first round of the playoffs after they reached the finals in the bubble last year.
The shortened offseason was a factor and the team was made to deal with numerous injuries as well as COVID-19 protocols. Their season ended in disappointing fashion as they were swept by the Milwaukee Bucks, who went on to win the Championship.
Miami was in no mood to wait before embarking on another deep postseason run and acquired Lowry in exchange for Achiuwa and Dragic. Precious will likely have a much bigger role than he did in Miami and he claims to be well prepared. We’ll see how the sportsbooks in Ontario fare on that front but the Raptors aren’t favored to accomplish anything of note next season.
That said, the former Heat forward is joining a squad brimming with potential. Pascal Siakam is set to return soon while the likes of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Gary Trent Jr., and Scottie Barnes make up quite an intriguing group. Dragic, who he spent a year with in Miami, is no slouch either.
“It was hard coming into the league in a COVID-19 environment,” Achiuwa said. “I was learning on the fly. But the things I learned from Miami; I have applied them to my game now.”
The Raptors have a pretty exciting core and boast a former Coach of the Year in Nick Nurse. Who knows just how good next season could be?