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Suns Player Preview: Drew Eubanks continues a trend of over-qualified backup bigs in Phoenix

Will he see as much time as we initially thought? Probably not.

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

If there’s one area of roster construction around the margins that Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations James Jones has thrived in, it would be finding awesome return of investment on depth bigs. Even this summer where he was forced to pinch pennies, Jones seems to have struck gold between Chimezie Metu and today’s preview subject:

Drew Eubanks

Big, 6’10”, 245 pounds, 26 years old

Where we’re coming from and where we’re going

Entering his sixth year in the Association, Eubanks spent the last 100 games with the Portland Trail Blazers, starting half of them. He finished his Blazers career averaging 8.4 points (64.3 FG%), 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks in 22.3 minutes per game.

The vast majority of his points come from inside. I like to check on guys’ Synergy play profiles to see where they’re most comfortable operating, and this was a fun page to peruse.

Over half of his possessions tracked were of the cut or roll variety, meaning he’s operating off-ball the vast majority of the time. Looking at the film, sometimes these cuts were really just roll plays where Eubanks received the second or third pass instead of the first one, other times Portland just preferred to roll a wing off the screen and Eubanks cuts off that.

So his craft getting to scoring position is pretty good moving toward the paint. What about more stationary chances like post-ups that so many clamor for more of out of this Suns offense?

Synergy tracked 21 possessions, which is less than 5% of his offense. He did have lots of success there though, shooting 12-18 (66.7%), good for 1.381 points per possession which is “excellent” by Synergy’s standards (their top rating).

However, in 100 games over a season and a half with Portland, Eubanks took 33 3PA as opposed to taking just 11 in 148 games as a San Antonio Spur. If we want to be optimistic — which, we do — this uptick is so meaningful, especially when we consider that 2022-23 saw his highest efficiency from range, 7-18 3P (38.9%) over 78 games.

If that progress can continue, he may find himself serving as a true stretch big for Phoenix, opening things up for whichever star(s) accompanies him on the court.

Accounting for just last season, Eubanks averaged 1.3 blocks per game; he was the only Blazer (with at least five games played) to cross the 1.0-threshold, and Jerami Grant was next closest with 0.8 per game. Eubanks was that far ahead of Grant while playing over 15 minutes fewer than Grant too, so Eubanks made the most of his minutes.

To help illustrate that point, I like to look at per-100-possessions stats to give a more level playing field when comparing stats (a normal NBA game usually hovers roughly around 100 possessions, so that’s where that comes from). His 3.1 blocks per 100 is just insane, and it’s more than double the next closest with at least 20 games, his starter counterpart Jusuf Nurkic.

From the Suns, only Bismack Biyombo (1.4 in 14.3 minutes) blocked more shots per game last year; no, I’m not counting Kevin Durant’s eight regular season games. Biyombo’s 4.9 blocks per 100 was the only one ahead of the 3.1 for Eubanks as well.

Contract Details

Eubanks, like many of this off-season’s newcomers, signed to a “1+1” minimum contract, meaning one year under contract at the minimum, a player option to stick around for a second year (on a slightly higher minimum), or the ability to become a free agent after just one year.

That minimum comes out to $2,346,614 for this season, but it will bump up to $2,654,644 if he decides to stick around for one more year beyond this.

One Key Factor

So I think Eubanks is really good, especially considering the contract. Trouble is Phoenix’s fourth-best player is a center too. Eubanks may have gotten used to the 20-plus minutes per game he got in Portland, but there’s just not going to be that much of an opportunity here.

Our one key factor for Eubanks is playing time. Does Deandre Ayton play 65-plus (his average over the past three seasons) or more like 55-plus games? And how well is Eubanks able to step up into the bigger role in those instances? If Eubanks does play well enough, does he cut into Ayton’s minutes at all (about 30 mpg for all but one season)?

Prediction Time

I think there’s a real chance that Eubanks gives the Suns the best bench big season since JaVale McGee averaged nine points, seven rebounds, and one block in 2021-22. Only difference is that Eubanks fouls a lot less frequently (2.2 fouls in 20.3 minutes) than McGee did that year (2.4 in 15.8).

For that reason, as well as just the generally better defense, I think Eubanks can be even more impactful than McGee was.

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