© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Keita Bates-Diop and Eric Gordon are the two names that are frequently mentioned in the category of “Phoenix Suns sneaky-good additions” in 2023 NBA free agency. But the Suns have a third candidate as well, and it cannot be overstated how much value Drew Eubanks will provide as their backup center.
Getting all three of these players on two-year, veteran minimum deals (with a second-year player option) is incredible work from general manager James Jones and owner Mat Ishbia. But Eubanks has flown under the radar in the wake of Phoenix’s flurry of offseason moves, and it’s time to remedy that.
Speaking with PHNX Sports at NBA Summer League, Doug McDermott — a former teammate of Eubanks from their time together on the San Antonio Spurs — praised the Suns for landing such a great fit for their roster.
“I really liked what they did in free agency, got a lot of great role players,” McDermott said. “Obviously I played with Drew Eubanks for a couple years in San Antonio as well, and he’s another guy that just plays his butt off every night and not gonna have any issues with him in the locker room. So I just think the Suns did a great job of doing that with the right pieces.”
The question is, what specifically will Drew Eubanks bring to the table behind Deandre Ayton?
Just as we’ve done with Toumani Camara, Jordan Goodwin, Bol Bol, Eric Gordon, Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie and Chimezie Metu, it’s time to examine Eubanks’ game and figure out what the Suns can expect from him this season.
the hyperactive shot-blocking of Drew Eubanks
Eubanks may officially be listed as a power forward, but the 6-foot-10 big man spent last year with the Portland Trail Blazers as their backup center. That’s exactly what he’ll be in Phoenix too, despite “only” possessing a 6-foot-11 wingspan.
As a rim protector, the 26-year-old makes up for his comparative lack of length with lateral mobility, great anticipation and otherworldly hops. Eubanks recorded 102 blocks last season, the 11th-most in the entire league. For comparison, Ayton finished the year with 53 blocks despite playing 450 more minutes.
That’s not to drag Ayton (though he needs to improve in that respect under Frank Vogel), but rather, emphasize that Eubanks was an unbelievably engaged shot-blocker. McDermott believes his former teammate is under-appreciated in this respect.
“He really is [underrated],” McDermott said. “He’s a very strong, mobile athlete.”
Lots of people tried Drew Eubanks at the rim. He met most of them in midair at the peak of their trajectory, and he sent them away either shocked, confused or disappointed:
Eubanks ranked in the league’s 96th percentile in blocks per 75 possessions, but he wasn’t just wildly swinging at highlight-reel blocks devoid of impact. According to The BBall Index, he held opponents to 5.3 percent worse shooting at the rim than they were expected to shoot, which placed him in the NBA’s 89th percentile.
With most big men, a lack of mobility can be an issue. Although the Blazers were a miserable team, Eubanks fared well enough in his backup role and even filled in capably as a spot starter for 28 of his 78 appearances. He only placed in the 54th percentile in on-ball perimeter defense, but the film on some of his rejections shows he can hold his own when it comes to containing ball-handlers:
That’s Russell Westbrook (twice), Anthony Edwards (twice), Devin Vassell, Ja Morant and Desmond Bane he’s sticking with off the dribble. And not only is he shuffling his feet quick enough to do so, but he’s still got the burst to rise up and get a piece of their running layups at full speed!
Eubanks is fully committed to protecting the paint. Last season, he contested nearly 45 percent of all shots at the rim whenever he was on the court, ranking in the 95th percentile in that category. He also placed in the 99th percentile in rim points saved per 75 possessions and the 81st percentile in block rate on contests.
Whether he was shifting over from the weak-side to challenge a shot in midair, defending the pick-and-roll in the drop, or simply hustling to get back into the play, you could never count Eubanks out of a possession. His ability (and dedication) to recover in any situation and swat away shots that should’ve been gimmes was a pleasure to watch, but no one relished it more than Eubanks himself:
Whether he was denying Westbrook for what felt like the 18th time, standing over his victim, or volleyball spiking layups into the fifth row, Eubanks loved blocking shots. He looked like the Whomping Willow out there, only if the Whomping Willow uprooted itself, started patrolling the grounds of Hogwarts and talked shit to all the little wizards the whole time he did it.
Eubanks’ technique and footwork are sound when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll, which helped him rank in the 81st percentile in screener mobile defense. He also ranked in the 89th percentile in screener rim defense thanks to the pogo sticks he calls legs and his sense of urgency in recovering back to the basket.
The Suns won’t need him to play starter’s minutes, but in the shot-blocking department, Eubanks’ devotion to defending the rim’s honor makes him a Jock Landale upgrade and a suitable Bismack Biyombo replacement.
Drew Eubanks lives above the rim on offense too
Much like Josh Okogie, Bol Bol and even Chimezie Metu at times, Drew Eubanks has a penchant for busting out some unbelievable blocks that ignite the crowd. But much like those three, he’s also fully capable of unleashing vicious dunks that do the same thing.
On the offensive end, Eubanks is a lot like the Suns’ other centers in that he doesn’t create much of his own offense. Despite taking the vast majority of his shots around the basket, Eubanks ranked in just the 19th percentile in drives per 75 possessions, as well as the 35th percentile in his percentage of made shots at the rim that were unassisted.
There will be questions about whether the three-pronged attack of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant has enough playmaking to overcome Phoenix’s lack of a “true point guard.” But Eubanks placed in the 90th percentile in movement points per 75 possessions, and that was back when the only superstar he got to share the court with was a frequently-injured Damian Lillard.
Now he’s got three of them to make his life easier in Phoenix. Whenever Eubanks gets those easy dump-offs because of all the attention defenses are paying to the Big 3, rest assured he’ll finish them off emphatically:
In transition, in the pick-and-roll, in the dunker’s spot, it didn’t matter; Eubanks enjoyed punishing the rim just as much as he enjoyed protecting it on the other end. His one-handed rim rockers looked like the Statue of Liberty met the Air Jordan logo with the way he spread his feet for maximum dunking power, and his two-handed jams looked like he wanted to yank the rim right off the backboard.
Eubanks shot an impressive 75.3 percent at the rim last season, which ranked in the 94th percentile. He also placed in the 97th percentile in rim shot quality, establishing himself as the type of guy opponents didn’t want to challenge in mid-flight. Of his 214 made field goals last year, 76 of them were dunks. That was more than one-third of his made buckets!
Eubanks actually ranked 18th in the percentage of his field goal attempts that were dunk attempts — not far behind his new Suns teammate in eighth place, Chimezie Metu. And like Metu, Eubanks is more than just an idle finisher waiting in the dunker’s spot for his offense. He ranked in the 95th percentile in points per possession as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, showcasing great timing on his dives and a fearlessness to rise up over help defenders:
The high-flying dunks grab all the attention, but watch how he immediately pushes off when he feels contact on the screen, opening up toward the ball-handler as quickly as possible to set up his runway to the basket. In some cases, he barely makes contact on the screen before he pivots, almost as if he’s slipping the screen entirely.
But even when he’s not getting rewarded on the roll, Eubanks is still a reliable, physical screener. He ranked in the 96th percentile in screen assists per 75 possessions, which will make him a natural fit setting whiplash-inducing picks for Booker, Beal, Durant and Eric Gordon. That physicality on both ends is something Vogel is already looking forward to.
“We want to make sure that we’re one of the more physical teams in the league,” Vogel told PHNX Sports. “We’re gonna have a lot of offensive firepower, but a guy like Eubanks comes in and is gonna give us great physicality.”
Just watch how he barrels over somebody to free himself up for the first dunk in the clip blow, soars through midair contact in the second play, or outright drops his ball-handler’s man with a screen in the third. Eubanks doesn’t shy away from physicality, bulldozing his way into buckets or even and-1s when he actually gets the whistle:
Eubanks only ranked in the 56th percentile in contact finish rate, but that statistic is dependent on scoring while a foul is called — something that doesn’t show up when a player finishes through contact but doesn’t get the whistle. The eye test shows how much of a bruiser Eubanks can be, and it’s the exact type of profile teams love from their backup bigs.
Where else Drew Eubanks can contribute
If we’ve painted a picture of Drew Eubanks as some high-flying, physical monster without much actual skill, let’s go ahead and fix that now. Because as much as his athletic profile jumps off the page, Eubanks isn’t just some brute who leaps his way to the rim and powers the ball through the hoop.
Over the last few years, he’s shown a few burgeoning skills that hint he’s ready to meaningfully contribute on a winning team. The first is his footwork, which we already caught a glimpse of with his pick-and-roll defense.
Dunks are more fun, but watching him catch the ball in the short roll, take a power dribble and gracefully finish a finger roll through the trees will be a welcome sight in Phoenix. His footwork on post-ups in the clip below isn’t too shabby either:
Attacking the short roll is something that Ayton needs to work on, but he and Eubanks both share an affinity for — and almost an over-dependence on — their hook shots.
Like DA, spinning into a right-handed hook shot is Eubank’s go-to move in the paint. Also like DA, it can be predictable when scouted properly, even if it is a highly effective, nearly unblockable shot.
According to NBA.com, Eubanks shot 56.3 percent on hook shots last season. (For reference, DA shot 57.5 percent.) Eubanks attempted 103 hook shots overall, which made up nearly one-third of his total field goal attempts.
Some of them — especially the running sky hooks he took off the dribble — looked like overly ambitious tributes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Eubanks mixed in physicality, pump fakes, nifty footwork and spin moves on the block to get to his most trusted weapon:
Beyond the confines of the paint, Eubanks has a serviceable jump shot, but one that still needs work. It takes too long to load, and it’s nowhere near being ready off the dribble. He shot 38.9 percent from 3-point range, but it was almost exclusively as a stationary shooter. It came on extremely low volume with only 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
However, the foundation is there, and when he did have enough time to let it fly, the results didn’t look bad by any means:
More than likely, the Suns won’t need him to be a floor-spacer. His screen-setting, rolling and finishing abilities will shine instead, as will his offensive rebounding. Eubanks ranked in the 83rd percentile in offensive rebounds per 75 possessions, 73rd percentile in put-backs per 75 possessions and 95th percentile in points per possession off put-backs, so he can certainly help generate extra possessions.
In terms of playmaking, Eubanks doesn’t rate well in most categories, but he did build a familiarity with moving the ball where it needed to go whenever his superstar (Lillard) was trapped.
“He just makes the right play on offense,” McDermott said. “He knows his role, and he’s a really good communicator out there, too.”
Most of his assists aren’t particularly flashy, but being able to read the floor and find the open man when Booker, Beal or KD swing him the ball out of double-teams should prove useful:
Drew Eubanks won’t swing the title hunt all on his own, but he’s a high-end backup who will finally be getting the chance to prove himself on a championship-caliber team.
Thanks to his hyperactive rim protection, vertical spacing as an above-the-rim finisher, screen setting, physicality and all-around competence, Eubanks is as great a pickup as the Suns could’ve hoped to land behind Ayton.
Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!