Getty Drew Eubanks was a great addition in Phoenix.
Phoenix yanked Drew Eubanks off the board just five minutes after free agency opened on June 30. The Suns obviously didn’t want to get into a bidding war with other franchises, so they signed the former Spurs and Blazers big man almost immediately (perhaps too quickly, according to the NBA) to a two-year, $5 million contract.
In the madness of NBA free agency, a career backup center signing a two-year contract – presumably to continue playing as a backup center – understandably didn’t make national headlines. But Pheonix knew the 26-year-old could give them valuable skills, and Eubanks has been doing just that for nearly a month. He still plays the role of backup center, but will almost certainly also play a role in the postseason ambitions Phoenix has this season.
Do the best
Eubanks is averaging 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and a career-high 1.4 blocks in 11 games. Despite only playing 18.8 minutes per game, Eubanks has impressed in this relatively limited action. He blocked at least two shots in five games and scored more than 10 points six times. As the season progresses, he feels more and more comfortable in his role. His last two games were his best, averaging 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2 assists.
His block rate is near elite (3.4%), and he’s also been great from floater range (4-14 feet), shooting 55% from that area of the floor. He also (technically) leads the league in three-point shooting percentage and apparently dunks against the All-Stars. At least that’s what he did on Wednesday night against Wolves striker Karl-Anthony Towns.
While his numbers certainly aren’t overwhelming, Eubanks has been reliable on both ends for a Suns team desperate for stability outside of their superstar Kevin Durant. The other two members of Phoenix’s Big Three, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, have only played in six games combined so far. Their absences have also been felt – Phoenix is currently 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 the end of the year.
Backup Center, but for how long?
Some Suns fans are already calling for Eubanks – aka the Shaq of Troutdale – to start in place of current starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who is averaging his fewest points per game (9.5) since 2016-17 while shooting just 39.1%. shoots from the field. These numbers get even worse when you factor out Nurkic’s 20-point, 17-rebound, 8-assist performance from November 8th, which looks like an outlier at the moment.
If this sounds like you’ve heard it before, don’t worry, you’re not going crazy. The exact same situation occurred in Portland, where Eubanks was also the replacement for Nurkic. With Nurkic missing a lot of time due to various injuries, Eubanks stepped in and started 50 games in his two seasons in Portland, where he became a fan favorite because he played with the same high-energy plays he delivered in Phoenix.
The center position in the NBA is funny. Playing a role and fitting into the team system is almost as important as individual stats. Therefore, centers with small contracts can often make a big contribution. Take Kevon Looney for example. The Warriors big man was never a star in his own right and never earned more than $10 million a year, but still played a big role on several championship teams.
Drew Eubanks will never be a max-contract type player who pads his stats. But on a team full of offensive superstars, the biggest impact might be if he plays his role well – which he’s doing so far.
Quinn Everts covers the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for Heavy.com. Based in Portland, Oregon, he has been covering the NBA for nearly a decade, including at NBA.com, Basketball News, Yardbarker and FanSided. More about Quinn Everts