Going into the 2014 Summer League, Jeff Withey was expected to take that next "step." Nobody knew how big of a step that would be, but both coaches and fans were hoping for Withey to become a possible rotation big.
After all, his rookie campaign was filled with the sort of defensive intensity and athleticism any coach would want from a young big man. However, Withey’s limitations were pretty evident on the offensive end. The majority of his shots were taken in the paint, suggesting that his presence on the court would hurt the Pelicans spacing.
It was evident from the Summer League the coaches were going to feed Withey the ball and see what he could do if the offense were run through him. Did Withey develop any sort of offensive game in the off-season or is his NBA future strictly as a defensive center that can protect the rim but hurt the team on offense?
It was obvious from the Summer League that Jeff was not up to the task. He struggled against Summer League competition on both ends of the court, and it was apparent that he was not ready for a bigger role this season.
Jeff played the least minutes of any player that ended the season on the Pelicans roster. He played 11 less minutes than John Salmons! He racked up 42 DNP-CD during the season and was inactive three of the last four games and for the entire four game playoff series versus the Golden State Warriors.
Even with his uninspiring Summer League performance and playing the least amount of minutes on the Pels final roster by seasons end, I still think there is hope for Jeff in the future as a member of the Pelicans.
First of all, Withey can defend the rim. We have not seen him against many starters or second units during the season since most of his minutes came at the end of games, but Jeff blocked 5.3% of two point shots while he was on the floor. That was good for 15th in the NBA among players that played at least 259 minutes this season (the amount of minutes Jeff logged this season).
According to NBA.com/stats, opposing players shot 10.9% worse on shots of less than 6 feet when Withey guarded them than their normal averages. He clearly can have an impact on the defensive end.
Offensively, there were some positives to take away from his performance this season. During the playoffs when the Pels got some national exposure, many media members were dreaming about the kind of player the Pels would have if they could combine Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik into one player. That is a little greedy in my opinion. What if you could combine Withey and Asik, however? That player would be more valuable than DeAndre Jordan.
Many Pels fans grew tired of Asik’s inability to finish at the rim or make the opposing team foul him. He is not a good free throw shooter and usually when a player is next to the rim and shoots free throws poorly, the other team will concede the foul and send the poor free throw shooter to the line. Asik was different. Teams felt like they had a better chance to block his shot attempt and end the possession that way rather than foul him and take their chances at the free throw line.
Withey is different in this regard, much different. He led the team in free throw rate (number of free throws per FG attempt) at .781 for the 2014-15 season. Jeff also shot 68% from the free throw line, which is better than Austin Rivers and a hair below Tyreke Evans.
Even though Jeff played only 259 minutes, he still had more free throw attempts (50) than Dante Cunningham (47) who played 6.5 times the minutes that Jeff played (1652 minutes). Quincy Pondexter only attempted 66 free throws in 1253 minutes and Jrue Holiday attempted 76 free throws in 1303 minutes.
Withy attacks the rim hard. He has a little Blake Griffin in him, meaning, he tries to dunk on people and forces them to either foul him or get put on a poster (does a Jeff Withey poster even exist?). He attacks the rim like we all want Asik to attack the rim. This, combined with his defensive abilities, could warrant an uptick in minutes next season if Jeff remains a part of the roster.
Jeff’s playing time this season made little sense to me. I thought there was room for more minutes to have been allocated to him at times this season. Jeff’s contract expired after the 2014-15 season and he is a restricted free agent. However, I believe the Pels could sign him to a minimum deal, which is a move I would like to see happen.
Thus, part of me thought this was all part of a devious plan by Dell to be able to lock in Jeff to a minimum contract for multiple years and then unleash him next season. Even though that scenario is highly unlikely, I do believe Jeff Withey can bring something to this team and would be well worth another look for 2015-16, especially if the team is unable to retain Alexis Ajinca.