SAN ANTONIO — In the opening minutes of NBA free agency on Friday afternoon, the Spurs made their first moves by waiving Chimezie Metu and bringing back Drew Eubanks on a three-year deal worth $5.29 million.
Since 2018 the two big men have bounced back and forth between Austin and San Antonio, and ultimately the Spurs have decided to go with the undrafted Eubanks for frontcourt depth over Metu, who they selected with the 49th pick in that draft.
Eubanks signed a two-way deal with the team that just expired, while Metu had one year left on his rookie deal. As the 2020 season went on it was clear that the Spurs preferred Eubanks, who earned more minutes and played his role well as a reserve center.
In the Orlando bubble, he averaged 7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 17 minutes per game backing up Jakob Poeltl. Metu, meanwhile, barely got any run at Disney despite injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles.
Eubanks is undersized as a traditional center at around 6'9" but he compensates with hustle, anticipation, strength and athleticism. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich defined his role pretty clearly in the bubble.
"He’s not going to be a go-to guy, he doesn’t shoot threes so what’s left? You better set picks. You better run the floor. You better play D. You better rebound or you don’t play," Pop said. After a game with 6 offensive rebounds, he commended Eubanks on a job well done.
At first his contributions at the NBA level were mainly hilarious and joyous bench celebrations, but the 23-year-old Eubanks has developed into a productive role player. He understands the game at a high level and does a lot of little things that don't show up in the stat sheet.
Plus, he threw down one of the filthiest dunks in the bubble.
For a kid who went undrafted and proved himself on a two-way, it has to feel great to earn a guaranteed contract for the next three years. The minimum deal is a bargain for the Spurs as they shore up their big man depth with a hardworking glue guy.
As for Metu, this move felt expected after falling out of the rotation and recently hiring a new agent. Since San Antonio let him go at the start of free agency, he'll be free to explore his options elsewhere.
He was drafted out of USC as a raw athlete with great length, and while he definitely developed as a player and added a bit of an outside game in his time with the Spurs, he has never looked comfortable or consistent at the NBA level. He still might be able to develop that confidence if he's able to find an opportunity for more consistent minutes.
The next big question to be answered in San Antonio is whether or not the Spurs will re-sign center Jakob Poeltl. They'll have the right to match any offer he gets as a restricted free agent, and bringing him back should be a priority after not drafting a center.