Atlantic Notes: Achiuwa, Hart, Anunoby, Porzingis, Celtics

Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa has impressed in the midst of several injuries to key players like Julius Randle, starting 18 straight games and averaging 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per night. He returned to the bench as the team got healthier on Tuesday, but remained productive, registering 12 points, eight boards and two blocks against Philadelphia.

As observed by Newsday’s Steve Popper (subscriber link) and as we previously noted, it’s been a pleasant homecoming for Achiuwa, who moved to New York from Nigeria in eighth grade and played some high school ball there.

It was a very, very cool moment for me,” Achiuwa said. “Inner city kid, growing up in the city, of course, hearing about the Knicks, seeing the games and stuff. Now, being able to represent the city on that platform is really huge. Seeing how the city accepted me and just me being there in that particular moment was very nostalgic in a way. It was a crazy moment for sure.

This is the best I’ve played in a really really long time.

While Achiuwa’s play is exciting, Stefan Bondy of the New York Post writes New York may soon have a difficult decision to make. Achiuwa’s a restricted free agent this offseason and while his current projected $8-10MM valuation is more than reasonable for his production, Mitchell Robinson, due $14.3MM next season, is under contract. Additionally, Isaiah Hartenstein, who has taken over the starting job in the wake of Robinson’s injury, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Assuming the Knicks re-sign OG Anunoby, bringing back both Hartenstein – who could get a contract with an annual value around $13-14MM – and Achiuwa would send New York into the luxury tax, Bondy observes. While those salary projections seem safe for now, Bondy writes, it’s possible each Hartenstein and Achiuwa get more money than expected in a relatively weak frontcourt free agent class.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau defied his own trend of playing one lead guard, two wings, a power forward and a center when he transitioned to a position-less lineup in Anunoby’s return, Bondy writes in a member-only New York Post article. As Bondy observes, Anunoby played alongside Josh Hart in the starting lineup, and that duo has the NBA’s best net rating among two players with at least 241 minutes together (+37.7). “I like that versatility, and we thought that was one of the big reasons why we wanted OG, was what he would bring to the team,” Thibodeau said. “So I think it’s a huge plus for us.
  • Kristaps Porzingis missed his fourth straight game for the Celtics on Thursday, but head coach Joe Mazzulla gave a promising update on the star before the game, according to MassLive’s Brian Robb. “He’s progressing well,” Mazzulla said. “He was on the court today earlier, just working out with the guys. Don’t have an official timeline, but he’s getting better and better.
  • Boston’s starters have gotten plenty of credit for the Celtics‘ success this season, but the bench has played a pivotal, yet understated role this year, according to NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg. The bench unit including Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet have outscored opponents by 219 points on the year, the best in the NBA. In-season addition Xavier Tillman has also been a key contributor as of late.
  • In case you missed it, the Sixers are signing Kai Jones to a 10-day contract. Get the details here.
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