Nigeria men’s basketball is having a moment. The D’Tigers upset Team USA in their first exhibition Saturday and followed that up with a 23-point rout of Argentina Tuesday.
The country looks to be in strong position to contend for its first-ever Olympic medal, but there is still work to be done. Nigeria is carrying 16 players on its roster — including Jordan Nwora, who hasn’t yet reported to the team because he is on the Milwaukee Bucks — and will have to whittle that down to 12 before heading to Tokyo.
That means Chimezie Metu’s job isn’t done either. After spending the first three years of his NBA career fighting for a full-time roster spot, the grind continues this summer. Four players will get cut within the next week, and Metu is using this exhibition phase to make sure he isn’t one of them.
If Mike Brown knows who he plans to take on the Olympic team, he isn’t tipping his hand. The minutes distribution has been remarkably even for the Nigerians, with the majority of the 15 players getting between 10-20 minutes in the court. The starting lineup has been consistent over the first two games, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell if Brown has any favorites.
Metu has played a total of 25 minutes in the two contests, totaling 16 points, six rebounds, and four blocks. His athleticism has been on full display, whether it’s using the FIBA goaltending rules to knock a Kevin Durant free throw off the rim, or switching hands on an Ekpe Udoh lob.
We’ve reached the Ekpe Udoh passing an alley oop on the move to Chimezie Metu portion of the game. I love it pic.twitter.com/bfMVIfgtE9— E'Twaun Paramoore (Still Suspended) (@MarcoRomo_) July 12, 2021
Metu’s been primarily used as a 4, whether that’s next to Udoh or Jahlil Okafor. That means he operates as a spacer on offense instead of rolling to the basket, which probably is for the best since Metu is still struggling to make contact on his screens. Defensively, he’s been holding up fine, staying with perimeter players on their drives to the basket and using his length in help. He does need to rein in his fouls, however; foul trouble isn’t an issue with the depth on D’Tigers, but giving the opponents free throws isn’t ideal.
What’s been fun about Metu’s move to the perimeter is how it’s opened up other facets of his offensive game. He’s bringing up the ball as a secondary ball handler, often leading the offense in transition. Metu is even running some inverted pick-and-rolls. Against the USA, Metu faked a pass to the roller on a high screen in the third quarter, sending two defenders towards the basket, and he calmly shot an open three.
Metu might want to dial down some of the pull-up threes, though Brown is encouraging a fast-paced, free-flowing offense. But Metu’s gravity opens the floor for his teammates, so he needs to keep launching the catch-and-shoots, at least.
Please don’t act surprised when Metu knocks down 3s…ask me bout him— MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) July 11, 2021
Looking at the Nigerian roster before the exhibition games, it was hard to envision a scenario where Metu was cut, considering his NBA pedigree. But having seen D’Tigers play, there aren’t many weak links on this roster, and Metu isn’t guaranteed anything going forward.
But Metu has battled to get to this point, and he’ll 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 bit longer.