This Backup Center Is Thriving In First Season With Suns

Getty Drew Eubanks has been a great addition in Phoenix.

Phoenix snatched Drew Eubanks off the board just five minutes after free agency opened on June 30th. The Suns clearly didn’t want to enter a bidding war with any other franchises, so they signed the former Spurs and Blazers big man to a two-year, $5 million deal almost immediately (perhaps too quickly, according to the NBA.)

Within the madness that is NBA free agency, a career backup center signing a two-year deal – to presumably continue playing backup center – understandably did not make any national headlines. But Pheonix knew the 26 year-old could provide them with a valuable skillset, and Eubanks is doing exactly that through nearly a month. He is still playing backup center, but he’ll also almost surely play a role in whatever postseason aspirations Phoenix holds this season.

Making The Most

Eubanks is averaging 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and a career-high 1.4 blocks through 11 games. Though he’s playing just 18.8 minutes a game, Eubanks has impressed in that relatively limited action. He’s blocked at least two shots in five games, and scored 10-plus points six times. As the season progresses, he’s getting more comfortable in his role, too. His past two games have been his best, averaging 14 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2 assists.

His block rate is near-elite (3.4%) and he’s been great from “floater range” (4-14 feet) as well, shooting 55% in that area of the floor. He is also (technically) leading the league in three-point shooting percentage and dunking on All-Stars, apparently. At least, he did on Wednesday night against Wolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns.

While his numbers certainly aren’t staggering, Eubanks has been reliable on both ends for a Suns team that is desperately searching for stability outside of its superstar Kevin Durant. The other two pieces of Phoenix’s “Big Three,” Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, have played just six games combined thus far. Their absences have been felt, too – Phoenix is currently hovering around average in most categories, including net rating where they rank 15th. “League average” is certainly not where Phoenix hopes to be in any category by year end.

Backup Center, But For How Long?

Some Suns fans are already calling for Eubanks–also known as the Shaq of Troutdale— to start over current starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who is averaging his fewest points per game (9.5) since 2016-17 while shooting just 39.1% from the field. Those numbers get even worse if you remove Nurkic’s 20-point, 17-rebound, 8-assist performance on November 8th, which, at the moment, looks like an outlier.

If that sounds like something you’ve heard before, don’t worry, you’re not going crazy; the exact same situation unfolded in Portland where Eubanks was also the backup to Nurkic. With Nurkic missing significant time due to various injuries, Eubanks filled in, starting 50 games in his two seasons in Portland where he became a fan favorite for the same energy plays that he’s providing in Phoenix already.

The center position in the NBA is funny. Playing a role and fitting into a team’s system is almost as important as individual statistics. Hence, centers on small contracts can often be huge contributors. Take Kevon Looney, for example. The Warriors big man has never been a star in his own right and never made over $10 million per year, but he’s nonetheless played a huge role on multiple championship teams.

Drew Eubanks will never be a stat-stuffing, max-contract type player. But on a team full of offensive superstars, playing his role well – which he’s doing so far – could make the biggest impact.

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