Nigerian men’s basketball has a moment. The D’Tigers upset Team USA in their first show on Saturday and followed on Tuesday with a 23-point win over Argentina.
The country seems in a strong position to fight for its first Olympic medal, but there is still much to be done. Nigeria have 16 players on their squad – including Jordan Nwora, who hasn’t signed up yet because he’s with the Milwaukee Bucks – and needs to reduce that to 12 before moving to Tokyo.
That means Chimezie Metu’s job isn’t done either. After spending the first three years of his NBA career battling for a full-time squad spot, the grind continues this summer. Four players will be removed within the next week and Metu is taking advantage of this exhibition period to ensure that he is not one of them.
If Mike Brown knows who he wants to compete against the Olympic team, he won’t shake hands with him. The minute distribution was remarkably even for the Nigerians, with the majority of the 15 players playing between 10 and 20 minutes. The starting line-up has been consistent in the first two games, but beyond that it’s hard to tell if Brown has favorites.
Metu played a total of 25 minutes in the two competitions, a total of 16 points, six rebounds and four blocks. His athleticism was on display, whether he was using FIBA goalkeeping rules to throw a Kevin Durant free throw from the sidelines or switching hands on an Ekpe Udoh praise.
We have reached Ekpe Udoh, past an alley, on the way to the Chimezie Metu part of the game. I love it pic.twitter.com/bfMVIfgtE9
– E’Twaun Paramoore (still suspended) (@MarcoRomo_) July 12, 2021
Metu was mainly used as a 4, be it alongside Udoh or Jahlil Okafor. That means he acts as a spacer on offense rather than rolling into the basket, which is probably for the best as Metu is still struggling to make contact on his screens. He held up well on the defensive, stayed with the perimeter players on their trips to the basket and uses his length to help. However, he has to curb his fouls; Foul anger isn’t a depth problem in D’Tigers, but giving opponents free throws isn’t ideal.
What was fun about Metu’s move to the perimeter is how he opened up other facets of his offensive play. He brings the ball up as a secondary ball handler and often leads the offense in transition. Metu even does some reverse pick and rolls. Metu faked a pass to the waltz against the USA in the third quarter on a high screen, sent two defenders towards the basket and quietly shot an open three.
Metu may want to turn down some of the pull-up threesomes, though Brown encourages a quick, free-flowing offensive. But Metu’s gravity opens the ground for his teammates, so at least he has to keep starting the catch-and-shoots.
Please don’t be surprised if Metu knocks down 3s … ask me about him
– MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) July 11, 2021
Looking at the Nigerian squad ahead of the exhibition games, given their NBA pedigree, it was hard to imagine a scenario where Metu would be cut. But after seeing D’Tigers play there aren’t many weak links in this line-up and Metu can’t guarantee anything for the future.
But Metu struggled to get to that point and he will keep pushing to prove he belongs, just as he did with the kings. It’s been a fun ride so far; Hopefully Metu’s journey will be a little longer.