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When the Knicks host the Raptors Monday, watch this potential trade target

Surprise, it ain’t Anunoby.

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New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors (9-13) have floundered this season and could be headed toward a tear-down and rebuild. While the Knicks have reportedly been interested in their small forward OG Anunoby, there is another frontcourt fella on the team who might be easier to acquire, will address an immediate need, and would not disrupt the trajectory of RJ Barrett.

Precious Achiuwa is a 24-year old, 6’8”, 225 lb power forward. He is under contract for $4.3 million this season and will become a free agent in 2024. With the trade window opening soon, Masai Ujiri might be looking to move Achiuwa for assets, rather than risk losing him for nothing in the summer.

Achiuwa was selected 20th by the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Draft, signed a multi-year contract with them in November 2020, and was later traded to the Raptors in August 2021 as part of the swap for Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. The Raptors extended Achiuwa’s contract with team options in October 2021 and 2022.

To land OG Anunoby, the Knicks would have to surrender RJ Barrett, because the two starters would be redundant. Although the front office were reportedly willing to include RJ in a deal for Donovan Mitchell, they seem committed to him as a Knicks fixture now and, before the onset of migraines, his 2023-24 campaign had been off to a great start.

Acquiring Precious would create no such disruptions in New York. Serving as understudy to Julius Randle won’t be an issue, since Achiuwa is a bench player in Toronto and has yet to start a game this season. He has averaged about 19 minutes per game over his career and would play that or less behind Randle.

With Toronto, he has filled in as a small center, but, given his size, he profiles more naturally as a four. Currently, the Knicks run Josh Hart as a nominal back-up power forward, and they pray Randle doesn’t get hurt. Not exactly a sustainable plan. They need a true big to sub in for Julius, and Precious is that.

Talent-wise, Achiuwa has been a mixed bag of exciting highlights but general inconsistency. He has averaged 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 205 regular-season games. Although he was occasionally benched by Nick Nurse last year, he also achieved career highs and showed improvement in his game. Precious worked on his finishing skills over the last campaign, raising his field goal percentage at the hoop from 63.5% to 72.6%. Meanwhile, he got better at attacking, leading to better results on drives.

His long-range shooting plummeted to 27% last year, but has crept back to the low thirties this season. He is a 60% free throw shooter lifetime and improved to a 15.2 PER of late, with a True Shooting percentage of around 53%.

This season, he has played about half the total minutes logged by Anunoby, 585-289. However, per 100 minutes, Achiuwa out-rebounds Anunoby 16.7 to 6.4, dishes almost two more assists than his cohort, has the better defensive rating (111 to 114), and scores 21.6 points.

Indeed, Achiuwa’s defense stands out as his greatest strength, and you can rely on him for around two offensive rebounds per game. Both facts make him a prime target for Thibs.

Achiuwa’s performance varies based on surrounding talent. He is not the shooter that Anunoby is, but Achiuwa wouldn’t be required to take many shots when running alongside Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Josh Hart, and Isaiah Hartenstein. He is an exciting finisher in fast break situations, but decision-making and turnovers have been areas that need work.

As for health, injuries can be a concern, because he missed two months last season due to ankle injuries and has dealt with a groin strain of late. Behind an iron man like Randle, though, Precious could sit now and then and not be missed all too much.

It is difficult to say what Ujiri would ask in return for Achiuwa. Obi Toppin was swapped for two second-round draft picks; the Raptors president will surely demand more for his guy. Then again, Ujiri has made surprising decisions over the past three years, like losing key players for nothing (e.g., Fred VanVleet) or underwhelming returns (Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell).

All this is moot if the bad blood between the Raptors and Knicks over their current legal fracas can’t be set aside to conduct business. Toronto certainly is in no hurry to do any favors for Jim Dolan and Leon Rose. But, if a deal could be swung, Precious Achiuwa is an affordable yet talented target who could help the Knicks this season.