Why didn’t the San Antonio Spurs play Chimezie Metu in Orlando?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 13: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Chimezie Metu #7 of the San Antonio Spurs on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 13, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 13: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Chimezie Metu #7 of the San Antonio Spurs on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 13, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Sophomore big man Chimezie Metu played fewer minutes in his second season than he did as a rookie — Why don’t the San Antonio Spurs trust him yet?

It’s clear as day that the San Antonio Spurs prioritized their young players during the Orlando restart. With three starters out of the lineup for their eight seeding games at Walt Disney World, one has to wonder why sophomore Chimezie Metu never got his chance.

San Antonio was without its starting frontcourt for the entirety of the restart. Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge underwent shoulder surgery during the hiatus that kept him out through the seeding games and starting power forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy that put him on the sideline as well. All of the opportunity should’ve been available for Metu to get his chance, and yet head coach Gregg Popovich kept him for all but six minutes in the seven games that counted.

Metu was a revelation in his second season with the Austin Spurs, starting 22 games and posting a loaded stat line of 18 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. His field goal percentage jumped by 5.4 percent in his second season with Austin and his 3-point jumper finally translated at 37.9 percent on just over two attempts per contest. His athleticism, instinct and versatile pool of skills make him an interesting prospect at only 23-years-old.

So why couldn’t Metu get minutes? First off, it seems like the team favors two-way center Drew Eubanks, who played a pivotal role off the bench for the Spurs. He’s deemed the more NBA-ready played of the two despite having a more limited skill set. However, that rim protection, rebounding and unselfishness are what the silver and black needed from their backup big in the restart.

sheesh, @Chimezie_Metu ? pic.twitter.com/pKMTqghoEm

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) August 14, 2020

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It didn’t help that the Spurs turned to small-ball through most of the restart. The majority of their minutes at power forward were dominated by three players (DeRozan, Gay and Johnson) who are natural small forwards or shooting guards. This helped the Spurs play an up-tempo style that resulted in the fourth-best regular-season Net Rating in the Orlando bubble. They were statistically eliminated before getting a chance at showing it in the playoffs, opening up room for Metu to play in the final game.

During almost 27 minutes in that last game against Utah, Metu scored 10 points on 50 percent shooting with six boards, four assists, a steal and a block. It was during this instance that you could see both sides of the coin for Metu. While the prospect has a ton of raw talent that he puts to good use on the court, his decision-making is still a work in progress. Metu commits unnecessary fouls and has trouble keeping up as a team defender. He’s prone to turning the ball over when looking to use what’s traditionally known as “guard skills” at the power forward and center positions.

Pretty soon, the Spurs need to make a final decision on Metu. The fact that Popovich wasn’t willing to play him at the end of his second season doesn’t bode well for his future with the team despite having a ton of innate talent. However, next season will provide another opportunity for the big man. Eubanks’ future with the team is to be determined and San Antonio could look to add another big either in free agency or during the 2020 NBA Draft.

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Metu has a cult following in Spurs fandom that wants to see him get minutes but time is of the essence and the clock is ticking a bit louder each day.

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