Where does Precious Achiuwa fit in a fully healthy Knicks rotation?

There’s been little to celebrate for Knicks fans over the last month, as their team tried to tread water through February without three and at times four starters. One silver lining from an otherwise underwhelming stretch is the emergence of Precious Achiuwa, once thought of as the throw-in of the OG Anunoby trade.

Not anymore. Achiuwa looks like a full-fledged NBA weapon at Tom Thibodeau’s disposal, bringing versatility once sorely lacking on this roster, while being younger than Obi Toppin.

The 6’8”, 225-pound combo big averages 8.7 points and 7.4 rebounds as a Knick on 54.1 percent shooting from the field. He’s done everything asked of him and more, from rim-running as a backup five to filling gaps and switching defensively at the four spot.

As New York’s injured players slowly return, their coaching staff will have to determine how to utilize Achiuwa in a fully healthy rotation. At first pass, there’s no obvious slot for him once everybody’s back.

The Knicks starting lineup is likely to be Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, OG Anunoby, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. That leaves four reserve roles for Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart, Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks, Miles McBride and Achiuwa.

Thibs is unlikely to stray from his shortened rotation, especially once the Playoffs arrive, where he’s likely to tighten up even more. Hartenstein is the clear backup five option, they need one of Burks or McBride at the guard, and it would be surprising to go away from either Bogdanovic (newly acquired trade chip, deadeye 20+ PPG shooter) or Hart (culture-setter, do-it-all wing and Thibs favorite.)

Where does that leave Achiuwa? Injuries are always a factor and will likely alleviate some of this rotational logjam at some point, but until then the Knicks need to figure out Achiuwa.

Feb 3, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.Feb 3, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) warms up before a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.

There’s benching him, which seems like a waste. He’s no stalwart at the rim but can guard multiple positions and help effectively, not to mention crash the boards.

Offensively he’s a bit raw, with the jumper still a work-in-progress as well as some of his more touch-reliant looks. That said he’s extremely active and physical on that end, makes nice random cuts and is solid as the roll man.

He could play as a traditional backup four, slotting Hart at the three or two in Anunoby-plus-bench lineups, but that might impact their spacing too negatively. He’s shooting 23.5 percent from three as a Knick, worse yet is entirely ignored behind the arc, and New York gets punked in lineups featuring him, Hart and Hartenstein to the tune of -5.5 points per 100 possessions in a 250 minute sample.

As Thibs isn’t benching Hart anytime soon, this doesn’t seem like a viable option. On top of that, Anunoby playing the four with reserves has been a strong look for the Knicks, so they won’t want to run away from that.

If Hart is an early substitute in the first quarter, it’s possible to get Achiuwa some backup four minutes without him in the second quarter, but he wouldn’t get much. Still, a Brunson-Bogdanovic-Anunoby-Achiuwa-Hartenstein lineup will be worth exploring.

Bogdanovic could get benched depending on the matchup, but that really leaves the bench unit starved for shooting. Given what the Knicks have up to get him and their need for another scorer, it’s hard to see this happening much.

Achiuwa supplanting Hartenstein (or Robinson) as the backup five is also tough to imagine. It could work situationally against smaller lineups the Knicks want to space out against, but the dropoff in rim protection would be enough to scare Thibs off from deploying this look more than sparingly.

Early foul trouble could open up some minutes for him, but this is another emergency case. Achiuwa makes for an awesome insurance policy, but after this stretch there’s reason to want to see more of him than that.

In the end, this is a nice problem for the Knicks to have, being too deep as they head into the franchise’s most potentially rewarding postseason in a decade. They’ll have to make a decision one way or another, and it will be interesting to watch them thread this needle as the regular season winds down

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