Has Drew Eubanks done enough to stay in the Spurs' rotation?
By Cal Durrett
Now in his fourth season, Drew Eubanks has found a consistent role in the team's rotation after initially signing as an undrafted free agent in 2018. While it's been impressive to watch him carve out a role with the San Antonio Spurs, he’s mostly struggled this season. This is after an offseason spent working on improving his game and expanding his range, but that work has yet to pay off thus far.
With his up-and-down play, it's fair to wonder whether he’s shown enough to warrant his spot in the rotation going forward or whether San Antonio should look elsewhere. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at Eubanks and the team's other options at center.
Do the Spurs need to consider replacing Eubanks in the rotation?
Eubanks was able to carve out a role with the Spurs due to his effectiveness as an offensive player. He's incredibly effective finishing around the basket, as evidenced by his career 57.2 field goal percentage.
Moreover, he provides other skills such as rebounding and screen setting, both of which are skills San Antonio has historically valued in their big men. However, he's been largely underwhelming to start this season.
Despite that slow start, he was thrust into the starting lineup when starter Jakob Poeltl missed seven games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocol. The Spurs went 2-5 during that span, and while Eubanks had a couple of strong games, the team continued to struggle with him on the floor. In fact, he has a total plus/minus of -43 so far this season, which illustrates how ineffective he's been.
Fortunately, with Poeltl back, Eubanks can now return to his role as San Antonio's backup center. Although, given the team's bad start and the part that he's played in it, they'd be smart to consider other options at backup center.
Who should be the Spurs' first big man off the bench?
The most obvious choice is Thaddeus Young, who finally got an opportunity to play consistently with Poeltl out. He made the most of his opportunity and played very well, providing the team with a fantastic passer and an excellent finisher. However, with coach Gregg Popovich's unwillingness to play Young at power forward, Young has again been relegated to playing spot minutes at center.
Perhaps the Spurs aren't comfortable relying on a small ball center to play center regularly with the second unit. After all, Eubanks is definitely a better rebounder and poses more of a rim deterrent than Young. Still, Young could help the Spurs' horrendous offense be, well, less horrendous. He's the team's best passing big man since Pau Gasol and has been great at finding cutters for easy baskets in the half-court.
Young also has more scoring ability than he's shown this season. For instance, he's capable of attacking opposing bigs off the dribble, has a reliable floater, and has even been known to score in the post. With more consistent playing time, I believe he'd be able to incorporate those skills into the Spurs' offense and prove to be an upgrade at backup center over Eubanks. Popovich obviously doesn't agree.
On the other hand, with Young potentially being traded, Popovich may not want to bench Eubanks only to have to rely on him after the trade deadline. San Antonio does have other options including Jock Landale and Zack Collins, but Landale has hardly played and Collins may not be ready to play until January.
They could eventually challenge Eubanks for a spot in the rotation but that appears unlikely this season. As for next season, Eubanks is under contract for another year, though could become expendable considering the Spurs are all but certain to have a high lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft.
The Spurs currently have the 5th-worst record but would have a 31.5% chance of landing in the top 3. Additionally, 7'0 center Chet Holmgren is expected to be selected in that range. Were San Antonio lucky enough to be able to draft him, Drew's role would certainly be diminished or he could even be traded.
Even without Holmgren, San Antonio could look to bolster the position in the offseason or have Collins and Landale compete with him in training camp and in the preseason. Either way, Eubanks’ role is far from settled going forward.
All in all, while Eubanks hasn't been nearly as effective as many might've expected this season, he's almost certain to keep his spot as the team's backup center. There is still a small possibility that if he continues his ineffective play that Young, Landale, or Collins get a shot. That seems unlikely at this point, however, given Popovich's coaching decisions and the health of Collins.
Still, the rest of the season could be an audition of sorts for Eubanks, either with the Spurs or for another team. Therefore, even though Eubanks hasn’t done enough to solidify his spot in the rotation, he has every incentive to play better over the remainder of the season.