Jeff Withey turned in a fine rookie campaign. He went from an afterthought on the bench to becoming an important member of the rotation to starting 3 of the final 4 games. As a starter, he averaged 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 26.1 minutes a game. Not awe inspiring numbers, but as we'll mention later, there still exists hope he could function as a key contributor on a winning squad. At the very least, he performs very well in several facets that will ensure his employment in the league for years to come.
Although Monty often kept Withey at the back of the bench, he did note his improvement:
"Jeff has come a long way this season," Pelicans coach Monty Williams. "He looks nothing like the guy we saw in training camp. He has worked hard. His body looks different, and he has made progress on the court working with (assistant coach) Kevin (Hanson)."
Jeff Withey flashed a good deal of positives. First, he was ultra-efficient on offense. Out of all NBA players who played a minimum of 500 minutes, he ranked 9th in offensive rating. Yes, he was fastidious with his shot selection, but on a team with a wealth of scoring options, that didn't pose as a hindrance. In fact, when he was on the floor, the Pelicans boosted a positive Net Rating of 2.1 (105.5 ORtg, 103.4 DRtg), the best of all Pelican regulars not named Luke Babbitt.
Second, Withey posted a 6.1 BLK%. That placed him sixth in the league, sitting only behind Anthony Davis, Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Ronny Turiaf and Chris Andersen. For all those clamoring for a twin towers effect immediately after it was announced the Pelicans selected Nerlens Noel in last year's draft, there still remains the chance of incredible paint protection down the road.
Third, Withey proved his reputation as a renowned collegiate defender wasn't a fluke. According to Synergy Sports, opponents managed a 39.8 FG% against him. Player tracking data via NBA.com states he held the opposition to a 42.9 FG% around the rim. That's 6 percentage points more stingy than Davis and the only bigs who averaged 25+ minutes a game to best that mark were Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Larry Sanders and Robin Lopez.
Depending on the type of analysis used, there exists either just one major flaw or several. Jeff Withey averaged a very underwhelming 7.9 rebounds per 36. His rebounding was so poor that he ranked last on the team in percentage of rebounds per chance, 47.5%! His two point field goal percentage of 53.9% is low considering 65.9% of his attempts came from this area. His 6.8 field goal attempts per 36 invoke the belief he's a one dimensional player.
On the other hand, one compelling attribute was largely to blame. His lack of girth. Jeff Withey entered the league at 222 pounds and that's approximately 30 pounds less than a typical center. For centers, positioning is everything. If one doesn't have the requisite strength nor weight, it puts them at a significant disadvantage.
"I like to model my game after Tyson Chandler defensively. It would be awesome to come here and learn from him, get some stuff from him, and mentor underneath him."
Jeff Withey uttered these words after a pre-draft workout with the New York Knicks. Lo and behold, in looking for a decent comparison for Withey, Chandler's name came up when scouring basketball reference for super efficient big men in their age-23 season the last 15 years.
Due to body proportions, the list should be narrowed down to Tyson Chandler, Steven Hunter, JaVale McGee and Ryan Hollins. However, we can take it a step further. In his rookie season, Withey averaged 3.5 personal fouls per 36 minutes. For his career, Hollins owns a career mark of 6.3, thus never displaying the necessary aptitude to play large minutes in the league.
Although McGee's average of 4.3 is infinitely more palatable, the differences in intelligence are readily discernible. Withey has shown to be a team-orientated player, one who doesn't exceed his boundaries. On the other hand, McGee has often made ill-use of his talent, failing to earn consistent minutes under many a head coach. Seriously, how many times has he been featured on Shaqtin a Fool?
Granted, before the season started, the comparisons of Withey's ceiling to Chandler had already been made (well at least to some low-end, less explosive Tyson Chandler). The connection was an easy one: limited offensive players who only look to convert efficient shots around the basket, excellent rim defenders and similar body types -- reflexes and agility. But, at one point, the same could have been said of Hunter.
That's a pretty broad range between just two players, so where does Withey fall? Most of it will come down to intangibles. Both Chandler and Hunter entered the league at approximately 224 pounds. They both topped out around 240 pounds. However, Chandler has shown plenty of ability to hold his own against larger opponents. His strength is above average but his motor puts him in elite company. Meanwhile, Hunter was known for shying away from physical play and had a questionable motor, hence his laughable 7.6 rebounding career average per 36.
Withey is already 23 years of age, so one can't realistically expect his frame to drastically broaden. Instead, he's going to have to dedicate himself much like Chandler, both in the weight room and in his mental approach. This is even more important considering his own self-evaluation two years ago:
Sometimes, I definitely need that. That challenge gets me going. Sometimes it’s hard to jump-start my motor. I’m laid-back, so it’s hard for me to get, I guess, super angry and ready for games.
We, nor his potential career, can't have none of that. Though, if this season was any indication and Monty's ringing endorsement at the beginning of this article, Withey has started down the right path. He is already an elite shot-blocker. He possesses the ability to make opponents around the rim miss. He has an efficient offensive game, one that could expand given his proficiency at the free throw line.
This off-season, Withey has just two priorities. Get bigger and get tougher. If it were possible, I'd advocate him training with a soon-to-be participant of the next World's Strongest Man competition. It appears the amount of success Jeff Withey will enjoy in the NBA is directly tied to dumbbells and heart.