Nigerian men’s basketball has a moment. The D’Tigers upset the United States team in their first show on Saturday and followed with a 23-point rout of Argentina Tuesday.
The country appears to be in a strong position to contend for its first-ever Olympic medal, but there is still work to be done. Nigeria have 16 players on their roster, including Jordan Nwora, who has yet to report to the squad as he is on the Milwaukee dollars – and will have to reduce that to 12 before heading to Tokyo.
This means that Chimezie Metu’s work is not done either. After spending the first three years of his NBA career fighting for a full-time spot, the work continues this summer. Four players will be cut over the next week, and Metu is using this exposure phase to make sure he’s not one of them.
If Mike Brown knows who he plans to face on the Olympic team, he doesn’t raise his hand. The distribution of minutes was remarkably even for the Nigerians, with the majority of the 15 players having between 10 and 20 minutes on the pitch. The starting lineup was consistent over the first two games, but beyond that it’s hard to say if Brown has any favorites.
Metu played a total of 25 minutes in both competitions, totaling 16 points, six rebounds and four blocks. His athleticism was fully demonstrated, whether it was using FIBA goalkeeper rules to knock down a Kevin Durant free throw or changing hands on an Ekpe Udoh lob.
We reached Ekpe Udoh passing an alley towards the Chimezie Metu part of the game. I like it pic.twitter.com/bfMVIfgtE9
– E’Twaun Paramoore (still suspended) (@MarcoRomo_) July 12, 2021
Metu was primarily used as a 4, either alongside Udoh or Jahlil Okafor. This means he works as a spacer on offense instead of rolling towards the basket, which is probably for the best as Metu still struggles to make contact on his screens. Defensively, he held up well, staying with the perimeter players on their journeys to the basket and using his length to help. However, he must master his faults; Foul issues aren’t an issue with D’Tigers depth, but giving free throws to opponents isn’t ideal.
What’s been fun about Metu’s move to the perimeter is how it opened up other facets of his attacking game. He lifts the ball as a secondary ball manager, often leading the offense in transition. Metu even offers reverse pick-and-rolls. Against the United States, Metu rigged a roller pass on a high screen in the third quarter, sending two defenders toward the basket, and he calmly shot an open three.
Metu may want to cut back on some of the three pull-ups, although Brown encourages a quick and smooth attack. But Metu’s gravity clears the way for his teammates, so he needs to keep throwing the catch-and-shoots, at least.
Please don’t be surprised when Metu knocks down 3s… ask me about him
– MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) July 11, 2021
Looking at the Nigerian roster ahead of exhibition games, it was hard to imagine a scenario where Metu would be knocked out, given his NBA pedigree. But after watching D’Tigers play, there aren’t many weak links on this list, and Metu has no guarantees for the future.
But Metu fought hard to get there, and he will keep pushing to prove he belongs, just like with the Kings. It’s been a fun ride so far; Hopefully Metu’s journey continues a little longer.