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What Phoenix Suns can expect from high-flying project Chimezie Metu

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
July 31, 2023
Chimezie Metu will be a bit of a project for the Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns came out with guns blazing in 2023 NBA free agency, landing agreements a number of quality players in the first hour. Amidst all the names being announced as Suns newcomers, Chimezie Metu stood out as a very different, unexpected type of addition.

He wasn’t a starting-caliber wing who figures to compete for the fifth starting spot on a bargain contract, like Keita Bates-Diop. He wasn’t a high-end backup center — also on a surprisingly cheap contract — like Drew Eubanks. Phoenix was on fire to start free agency, but compared to the rest of their moves, Metu felt more like an underwhelming heat check.

At 26 years old, Metu spent his first four years in the NBA battling to carve out his place, playing sparingly for losing San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento King teams. Going through the gamut of Summer League, G League, being waived, re-signing on a two-way contract and ultimately earning a full contract, Metu put up career-high numbers across the board in 2021-22.

But with Mike Brown’s arrival and the Kings re-establishing themselves as a playoff squad after their 17-year postseason drought, Metu’s opportunities dwindled. His minutes got chopped in half last year, and despite Sacramento’s need for frontcourt depth behind Domantas Sabonis, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray, Metu failed to earn Brown’s trust. He played just 6 minutes in the Kings’ first-round playoff series, and now he’ll be joining a Suns team with much loftier playoff ambitions than “just happy to be here again.”

The question is, what can Phoenix expect from him when he gets his opportunities off the bench? Just as we did with Toumani Camara, Jordan Goodwin, Bol Bol, Eric Gordon, Keita Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie, let’s take a look at Chimezie Metu’s game and expectations for the upcoming season.

Haaaaaave you met Metu?

At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan, Metu fits right in with Phoenix’s offseason plans to target size, athleticism and length. General manager James Jones noted as much when the signing became official.

“Chimezie possesses infectious energy and provides us with great athleticism at the forward/center position,” Jones said in a statement. “His versatility makes him unique.”

Like the majority of this roster, Metu could wind up logging minutes at more than one position. Sacramento utilized him best as a small-ball 5, relying on his athleticism and length to make up for his lack of size. But if the Suns aren’t comfortable with giving a rookie like Camara minutes right away, Metu could check in off the bench as a 4 behind Kevin Durant or KBD.

The Suns have Deandre Ayton, Drew Eubanks and Bol Bol at the 5, but Metu can offer a different look there as a small-ball option. He may be best-suited for that position, simply because he offers very little offensively in terms of floor-spacing, which is less of a problem as a center.

One of the Kings’ biggest challenges over the last three years was trying to get Metu to cut down on his 3-point attempts. In his career season, he was jacking up 3.1 per game and connecting on only 30.6 percent of them. In a more reduced role last season, Metu took 0.6 per game and made just 23.7 percent of his attempts.

Despite ranking in the 93rd percentile in openness rating on The BBall Index, Metu was bad in pretty much every area as a shooter. He shot 26.5 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s and went 0-for-3 from the corners, per NBA.com.

He may have knocked down a game-winning triple a few years ago, but the Suns will probably follow the Kings’ line of thinking and try to restrict the number of 3s Metu lets loose.

Too many of his screens resulted in a pick-and-pop, rather than a roll to the rim where he was far more efficient. Sacramento had to stamp that mindset out, especially because of the tantalizing glimpses he showed as a roll man, off-ball cutter and overall play finisher in the paint.

Metu occasionally showed flashes off the dribble, ranking in the 80th percentile in points per possession in iso situations. However, he ranked in just the 31st percentile in drives per 75 possessions, so these fleeting instances aren’t really indicative of what the Suns should expect from him.

Metu may not have the skill-set to stake out a piece in the rotation alongside another big. He shot just 32.2 percent on all jumpers last season, and off the bounce, he settled for a flying hook shot that he connected on just 37.5 percent of the time. His go-to turnaround hook (3-for-17) was particularly problematic.

Where Metu can really excel is as an above-the-rim, automatic bucket in the paint.

Chimezie Metu is a top-shelf play finisher

True enough, Metu doesn’t create much of his own offense. He ranked in just the 14th percentile in his percentage of rim makes that were unassisted, and he was assisted on just under 80 percent of his made field goals overall.

However, he was a reliable play finisher whenever he got the ball in the dunker’s spot, rolling to the rim, or in transition. That happened pretty often, given that he placed in the 86th percentile in total shots at the rim per 75 possessions.

Aside from shooting 58.9 percent from the field, Metu also shot a staggering 77.4 percent at the rim — a figure that ranked him in the NBA’s 96th percentile. A large part of his efficiency was thanks to De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk finding him in the paint, but Metu was sneakily good at relocating and making himself available for those easy dump-offs. He was also really good at finishing them off with an extra flourish:

In just 689 minutes, Metu recorded 64 dunks. That was the 55th-most in the NBA last season, and while that doesn’t sound like much, only three players ahead of him on the list — James Wiseman at No. 39, Mark Williams at No. 46 and Andre Drummond at No. 51 — also logged fewer than 1,000 minutes. More impressively, Metu ranked eighth in the entire league in percentage of field goal attempts that were dunks, at a whopping 32 percent. In other words, he likes to dunk, and he dunks pretty often!

Most of them were gimmes, but making oneself available among the trees is a skill — as is being the type of above-the-rim finisher that convinces rim protectors to just stand down and make a business decision. One can’t help but notice how often Metu catching the ball near the basket resulted in resignation for the defense on that play. It’s no wonder he ranked in the 97th percentile in rim shot quality, and playing with offensive hubs like KD, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, Metu will likely get his chances to close out plays in similar fashion. He may have been a King last year, but on quite a few plays, he also served as a walking checkmate.

It’s not just Metu sitting and waiting around to be fed near the basket, however. When he rolls hard to the basket, the results can be pretty spectacular:

As the tape shows, Metu doesn’t always make sufficient contact on his screens, but it’s just enough to give his ball-handler an advantage. Thanks to his sound footwork and quick drop-step immediately after setting the screen, Metu also knows how to create separation on his rolls, freeing himself up for pocket passes or delayed feeds as he darts into openings in the paint.

They’re not quite slips on the screen, but Metu’s urgency in rolling frees him up for quick-hitting passes. And thanks to his leaping ability, help defenders only have a split-second to react before the runway opens up and he’s cleared for takeoff.

Metu ranked in the 84th percentile in roll man possessions per 75 possessions last season. His efficiency on those plays was hurt by how often he popped, since he only ranked in the 35th percentile in points per possessions as a roll man. The Kings boasted one of the NBA’s all-time offenses, but joining a Suns squad with three elite scorers and playmakers could still help him in this department.

One of the biggest reasons why is Metu doesn’t necessarily need to be involved in a basic pick-and-roll or stay stationed in the dunker’s spot to generate easy looks. He’s extremely active off the ball, ranking in the 88th percentile in movement attack rate, the 96th percentile in movement points per 75 possessions, and the 98th percentile in points per possession off cuts and dump-offs.

The Kings used this to their advantage, having him slip off-ball screens intended for shooters like Kevin Huerter as defenses scrambled to overplay the perimeter angle. That freed Metu up to cut toward the basket and finish with authority. If defenders overreacted like this to Huerter, just imagine how open Metu will be when it’s Booker, Durant or Beal coming off those screens:

Sacramento also had a favorite set they liked to use to utilize his otherworldly bounce. It normally started with Metu setting the first pick in a Double Drag screen for the Kings’ ball-handler. After setting the initial screen, Metu would curl toward the basket while his teammate in the same weak-side corner set a back screen for Metu’s man in a Spain pick-and-roll.

When it worked, the result was a rim-rocking alley-oop that fired up the home crowd and even earned some “oohs” and “aahs” from opposing arenas:

These are just a few examples of how the Suns could utilize his hops and finishing ability to their advantage. And with Phoenix going from Chris Paul’s methodical approach to a more up-tempo system, Metu is the type of big man who can close out fast breaks in emphatic fashion.

Metu ranked in the 87th percentile in points per possession in transition last year, and much like every other clip so far, he finished quite a few of these plays in jaw-dropping fashion:

There’s no question Chimezie Metu will get Suns fans out of their seats a few times this season. The bigger question is whether he can hold his own enough on the defensive end to get his crack at rotation minutes.

Two staples for Chimezie Metu to earn minutes

Whenever an NBA player is labeled as a “small-ball 5,” two questions usually follow: Can he defend well enough for those lineups to work, and can he rebound well enough to close out defensive stops?

Chimezie Metu has been aware of those two keys for years now:

On the rebounding front, Metu fared well in his limited minutes. He ranked in the 87th percentile in defensive rebounds per 75 possessions and the 90th percentile in defensive rebounding positioning, as well as the 87th percentile in real adjusted defensive rebounding rate. The one area for concern was how often he relied on his sheer jumping ability and length, since he only ranked in the 34th percentile in adjusted box-out rate.

However, Metu was fairly active on the boards on both ends. The Suns will miss Torrey Craig on the offensive glass, but perhaps Metu can join Okogie as one of the new Super Crash Bros. Last year in Sacramento, he placed in the 75th percentile in offensive rebounds per 75 possessions, as well as the 79th percentile in put-backs per 75 possessions.

His efficiency on put-backs was less than ideal, but that was because of how many of his “offensive rebounds” were ambitious, one-handed tips that didn’t fall. He made just eight of those 17 attempts, but the hustle and effort to even get a hand on the ball deserves praise in our book. He certainly had no problem converting some of these offensive boards:

Metu is fine on the rebounding front, but the defensive end is where he may struggle to stay on the floor. His awareness was frequently cited by Kings experts as his biggest detriment, and he struggled when opponents put him in actions or used screens to switch him out onto the perimeter.

According to The BBall Index, Metu ranked in the 26th percentile in on-ball perimeter defense and the eighth percentile in ball-screen navigation. That tracks for a guy who spent 66 percent of his time guarding centers or power forwards, but with his mobility and athleticism, he probably should’ve fared a bit better in this regard.

Too often there were lapses like these:

Instead of standout stops like this:

For a guy who could jump out of the gym, he recorded an alarmingly low number of blocks. Metu ranked in the 48th percentile in both block rate on contests and rim deterrence. Opponents weren’t afraid to attack the paint with the 6-foot-9 Metu serving as Sacramento’s chief rim protector.

However, Metu was certainly active in challenging shots, ranking in the 94th percentile in percentage of rim shots contested. He held opponents to 5.7 percent worse shooting at the rim, which ranked in the league’s 90th percentile, and he placed in the 99th percentile in rim points saved per 75 possessions. That might be enough for a defensive-minded, big man whisperer like Frank Vogel to give him an occasional look as Phoenix’s small-ball 5.

More than likely, however, Chimezie Metu will have a tough time carving out regular minutes on a deeper Suns team with championship aspirations. He averaged just 10.4 minutes per game for a Kings squad that lost in the first round of the playoffs, and he barely played in that series.

The odds are stacked against him as a sixth-year player who’s still working to piece it all together, but in limited doses, the athletic highlights and rim-rocking finishes are enough to give Phoenix a different look and source of energy off the bench. On a one-year contract worth the veteran minimum, that’s worth a flier even if this low-risk gamble doesn’t pay dividends.

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