It's a move I'm unequivocally excited about; Dell Demps absolutely, absolutely crushed it here.
Let's start with what Withey will bring to the table next season -- he's a true 7 foot center (7'3" wingspan), 23 years old, and just finished his fourth year at Kansas. He has no post game, can't create anything even remotely resembling a good shot, has no back to basket game and no range. It's early yet, but as of right now, I want Jeff Withey starting alongside Anthony Davis at center on opening night in October.
Why? He fits this team to a goddamned tee, and the things he does do, he's phenomenal at.
Chief among those is defense. Kansas finished 6th in defense in the country this season and 4th a year ago. You may recall Withey shutting down Jared Sullinger in the Final Four in 2012 and then Anthony Davis a few days later in the national title game. He has long arms, moves his feet well, keeps impressive leverage against smaller players, and has impeccable timing even against smaller guards.
Anthony Davis posted 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes, pace-adjusted at Kentucky; Nerlens Noel posted 5.4 blocks per 40 minutes, pace-adjusted as his replacement this season. At Kansas, Withey's pace-adjusted blocks rate was 5.2 over his four year career. Withey lacks the youth, athleticism, upside, and potential for greatness Noel possesses, but if it was a block party you were after, Withey's still going to deliver it.
Withey rarely fouled at the collegiate level either; his 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes pace-adjusted is all sorts of insane when you consider his importance in the center of Kansas' defense. On the glass, he finished with the 7th best defensive rebound rate among centers.b
In April, Draft Express wrote that Withey may well be the foremost defensive prospect in the entire 2013 draft class:
The defensive end of the floor is where Withey looks like an entirely different prospect. He appears infinitely more comfortable here, playing with a higher energy level and far more confidence. This is somewhat of a microcosm of Kansas in general, as they ranked as the 6th best defensive team in college basketball, but just the 27th best offensively. Withey's contribution to that shows up primarily in Kansas' defensive 2-point percentage, which ranked #1 in the country. The Jayhawks allow opponents to convert just 39% of their attempts inside the arc, an outstanding accomplishment. By comparison, in the season before Withey's emergence as a junior, Kansas' defensive 2P% was 44.5%.
It's not a stretch to say that Withey was the biggest defensive difference maker in college basketball this season. He blocked 4.9 shots per-40 minutes this season, down from 5.7 last year, but is far more than just a shot-blocker. Withey possess cat-like instincts on this end of the floor, showing unbelievable instincts as both a man to man and help-side defender. He does an amazing job of going straight up into the air and absorbing contact while avoiding committing a foul, aided greatly by his long reach, quick jump and tremendous timing. He almost always is able to keep his blocks in-bounds, which is infinitely more valuable than having a shot-blocker who simply sends opponent's shots into the second row. This is perhaps where his volleyball background shows up the most.
He uses his length incredibly well to not only challenge, alter and reject shots around the rim, but also in contesting attempts away from the basket. He reminds of Shane Battier somewhat in his ability to instinctively get a hand right into his opponents' field of vision, not even trying to touch the ball, but rather making it impossible for him to get a clean look off. Rarely if ever will you see him bite on a shot-fake, which is a major reason he only commits 2.6 fouls per-40 minutes.Big 12 teams had an impossible time scoring against Kansas inside the arc virtually all season long, and Jeff Withey is the main reason why.
Although the individual box-score numbers don't back it up, it's safe to say he is one of the most dominant defensive centers we've seen at the collegiate level in the last few years.
Withey finished 8th in the NCAA in adjusted statistical plus/minus in 2013, just a shade behind the #4 overall pick, Zeller. He has great hands in the pick and roll. Oh, and let's also tack on the fact that he finished better at the rim than any other player in college basketball (79%!).
He'll have to improve in terms of strength as well as his ability to step out and show on pick and rolls for sure; both of those things are especially exaggeratedly important skills in the NBA compared to college. Additionally, he underwhelmed on the offensive glass.
But in terms of purely defense, rebounding, and size next to Anthony Davis, Jeff Withey was an outstanding addition to the Pelicans roster today. He'll figure to make close to at least $20M less than Robin Lopez over the next four seasons while replicating many of his skills and very possibly bringing significantly better defensive rebounding and defense.
My vision? I'd like to see Withey start alongside Davis and get 15 minutes a night before ceding heavier play to Ryan Anderson as games progress. If the team brings back Al-Farouq Aminu, the defensive potential of a Holiday-Gordon-Aminu-Davis-Withey starting lineup makes me giddy. Tack on the offensive firepower of Tyreke Evans, Anderson off the bench, and New Orleans is essentially one quality shooter away from being a 2014 playoff team.
I'll leave you with this gif I can't stop watching: