The much maligned Pelicans bench has shown a spark of late. With Anthony Davis missing the majority of the Cleveland game and all of the Golden State game, the reserves had to step up in order to be competitive against some of the NBA’s elite talent.
A silver lining to a key player missing time is that other less utilized players are thrust into roles that they are not accustomed to, and thus the coaches are able to evaluate these players for future rotation minutes. Such has been the case for one Jeff Withey.
Since the start of season, the Pelicans have been searching for consistency behind Omer Asik, Ryan Anderson and Davis. In order for this trio to remain effective night in and night out, it's important that a fourth big man be able to contribute 10-12 competent minutes a game.
Does the team have such a candidate for those aforementioned minutes? Take a look at the two players per 36 stat lines below:
Statistics from Basketball Reference and NBA Stats
Would it surprise you if I told you Player B has played almost double the minutes of Player A?
Since this article is titled #FreeWithey, most of you will correctly assume that Player A is Jeff Withey. Player B is Alexis Ajinca, who has probably been considered the Pelicans fourth big man so far, at least according to minute distribution. Obviously, the statistics strongly disagree.
(Side Note: These numbers were actually much more drastic prior to the Utah game, where Withey did not get to the foul line nor grab a rebound, but he did block an Enes Kanter shot attempt that quite possibly ignited the Pelicans comeback.)
Ajinca is fine as a fifth big man, if one is needed, but his proclivity for the foul (see 7.7 fouls per 36) should limit him to such a role.
So far this season, Withey has only surpassed the 10 minute barrier in just five games; the first four occurred when either Davis or Asik were sidelined. Within that small sample, Withey has gone 9-15 from the field, 11-13 from the free throw line and averaged one block per game.
As a team, the Pelicans have had a tough time getting to the free throw line, despite free throws being the most efficient way to score points in the NBA. The Pels are currently 19th in free throw rate and are 19th in overall free throw attempts.
Withey scores a third of his points off of free throws, so it's not surprising to learn he has the highest free throw rate (.720) on the roster. In fact, of all the players in the NBA that have played at least 100 minutes so far this season, Withey is 7th overall in free throw rate.
After watching the way Withey plays, I can see why this is the case. He attacks the rim. He attacks the rim viciously. He wants to posterize anyone in his way. He realizes that teams are either going to (1) get out of his way and he will score or (2) they will foul him.
Small Sample Musings
- Withey has a PER of 21.72.
- Demarcus Cousins attempts two more free throws per 36 than Withey.
- Withey averages more blocks per 36 than Dwight Howard.
- Of all the F/C that have played between 90-500 minutes this season, Withey has the lowest TOV per 36 than any other player at 1.0.
- In those four games where Withey has played more than 10 minutes, he has a free throw rate of .764.
- Withey gets the calls that Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis do not get (somewhat joking here).
As you can see, Jeff Withey has improved so far from last season to this season in every statistical category on a per 36 minute basis besides steals.
His advanced statistics have also improved across the board. It's especially heartening to see the efficiency climb despite the increased usage. Confidence is a beautiful thing.
What’s the Point?
Besides the fact that he looks like a giant Rob Pattinson (my wife made that reference), Withey is a legitimate front court player in the NBA. The Pelicans have a guy that can come in, get to the line, block a shot and give Asik some rest when needed.
Can you remember the last time he looked completely overmatched and was a hindrance to the team? Neither can I. Now, it's entirely understandably that his numbers would probably go down were he to play significant minutes every night. (Gustavo Ayon says hello.) However, there are a number of teams in this league that could really use a rim protector like Withey in any kind of role. Cleveland, anyone?
I for one, however, hope that Monty can see what my eyeballs see and gives Jeff the chance he has earned. Maybe, just maybe, this may be the case as he was the fourth big to enter against Utah and he rewarded that decision with a key block to ignite the comeback.