Living in the NBA’s Walt Disney World bubble creates a good amount of free time. Maybe San Antonio Spurs PF/C Drew Eubanks should use it to study up.
Last week, I published an interview with Oregon State men’s basketball associate head coach Kerry Rupp. He coached San Antonio Spurs two-way center Drew Eubanks in his college days, helping to guide him to be one of the best players in the Pac-12. We had a great conversation about Drew’s development, his ability to adapt to the modern game, his work-ethic, grittiness and much more. I highly recommend that you check that piece out.
However, I left something out of that article to use at a later date. I closed my conversation with Kerry by asking him a crucial question about the next step of Drew’s evolution as a pro — Which players should the 23-year-old be watching game film of to draw inspiration for his own game? Well, he gave me three very concise answers with solid reasoning behind each of them. Today, we’re going to talk about those three players and why they make sense for Eubanks’ game.
First, let’s set the stage. After a solid rookie year in the G-League, the San Antonio Spurs decided to bring Drew back on another two-way deal to keep him in the system. They didn’t feel he was ready to crack the rotation, so they sent him back to Austin so he could learn how to play the right way. He’s been primed for the Spurs Way since early in his playing career because of his determination and work ethic. Being in silver and black makes sense for who he is both on the off the court.
With that being said, earning minutes with San Antonio remains an uphill battle for Eubanks. His roster spot is not guaranteed for next year and during his limited playing time in the big league this season, Eubanks showed that he’s still a raw prospect. Considering the injury to the Spurs’ leading center, LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s a legitimate opportunity for Eubanks to prove himself in Orlando.
By emulating these three great players and their strengths, Eubanks could take that next step.
Next: A man amongst boys
1. Former league-MVP Karl Malone had fundamentals reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs.
There’s no way Eubanks transforms himself into a 14-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate by watching tape, but in many ways, he’s similar to ‘The Mailman’ Karl Malone. They’re the same height and Malone was listed as just five pounds heavier than Eubanks in his playing days. Both of these players are mobile and active in the sense that they can move around the court a bit quicker than most other at their position.
By watching Malone’s highlight reels and studying his style, Eubanks can draw on any number of tactics. Malone had incredible footwork that he used to put himself in positions to score. He could lean on the right block and finish with a crafty layup on the opposite side of the basket or find small pockets to drop step for a bucket near the paint.
Eubanks loves to use the baby hook to score down low and so did Malone, but to ascend to the All-Time scoring ranks, Malone had to expand his arsenal. He became the greatest pick-and-roll partner you could ever imagine for John Stockton, pummeling opponents on the screens and using his combination of burst and explosiveness to detonate on the rim.
One of the more underrated aspects of these players that overlap is the fact that they both run hard on the fastbreak. On many occasions, you’d see Malone darting to the basket on the fastbreak looking to punch it home with emphasis, beating out his competition and embarrassing them if they got in his way. As Rupp noted, Eubanks has some nasty in him and can bring that competitive fire when he’s locked in.
By focusing his energy on the game, Eubanks could make a real name for himself and carve out a role in the rotation. I feel that the best way for him to do that is to be as mobile as possible.
Next: A layered and under-appreciated comparison
2. Eubanks needs to channel his inner Andrew Bogut for the San Antonio Spurs.
Maybe he never lived up to his No. 1 pick potential but when you look back on it, center Andrew Bogut ended up with a pretty great resume. He was the backline defender for one of the best teams in modern history with the 2015 Golden State Warriors, made an All-NBA team in 2010, an All-Rookie team in 2006 and led the league in blocks in 2011.
When it became obvious that he wasn’t going to be the star that some hoped he would coming out of the draft, Bogut strapped in and stuck to his role.
He defended the rim with all of his heart, making sure that his teammates wouldn’t have to worry about getting beat off the dribble or making an error on the perimeter. Bogut constantly boxed out the opponent’s best big man, padding his teammate’s rebounding stats in the process. In team sets, he never held the ball for too long, ensuring that it ended up in the right hands to make a winning play.
Some players just aren’t meant to dominate the stat sheet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t influencing the game. Bogut was the perfect example of that dating back to his days as a college player in Utah, where he developed a relationship with Rupp. Something that Rupp instilled in Bogut that he wanted Eubanks to grasp as well is that there’s no shame in impacting the game by doing the little things. Winning basketball isn’t about being the most flashy.
When watching Bogut, I want Eubanks to draw from his movements on defense, anticipation, team-first mentality, screening, box-outs and timing on the glass. Doing those things doesn’t influence jersey sales or social media following, but they get you a consistent role in the NBA.
Next: A former Spur and a wonderful teammate
3. He wasn’t his best with the San Antonio Spurs, but Pau Gasol is a legend.
The relationship between San Antonio Spurs fans and Spanish power forward/center Pau Gasol is a rocky one. Pau brought a lot of promise to the table and his personality a great fit with the franchise’s ideal. Unfortunately, the on-court fit was tough to figure out and he didn’t age gracefully in the NBA. Still, Pau was dominant for many years in Los Angeles and remained an All-Star in two forgotten seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
Pau’s passing is one aspect of his game that Eubanks should study in-depth. Gasol was a master of surveying the court from the high-post and rocketing passes to teammates for open shots either on the perimeter or off of cuts under the basket. Having a big man who can facilitate every so often transforms the outlook of a game for a team trying to generate scoring momentum.
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There’s a really strong case to be made that Eubanks is currently more athletic than Gasol ever was, but that’s not everything. With elegance, dedication, thoughtful application of skills and preparation, you can achieve anything in the sport. This is why someone like Nikola Jokic, whose athletic profile is moderate at best, can solidify himself as an every-year All-NBA center.
From his charitable efforts to the way he interacted with his teammates, Pau was a class act and taking notes from him would do dividends for the young center trying to find his way in the league. When Pau was Eubanks’ age, he was the driving force behind a 50-win team in Memphis that finished eighth in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Even with a team of his own and a city dedicated to him, it wasn’t until Pau played second-fiddle and sacrificed his stardom to be part of something bigger that he began competing for championships.
Being a great man and knowing where to insert yourself on the court makes Pau a wonderful role model for just about any young big man, let alone person. Regardless, the on-court comparison makes sense as well. Gasol had great court-awareness that Eubanks could learn from.
If Drew could learn to rebound and block shots by watching Pau’s anticipation and timing, he could drastically improve his play.
At times, Drew can play recklessly. When he learns to simmer down, take his time and let the game come to him, he can channel his inner Pau Gasol and try to make a major impact on the Spurs.