Jeff Withey proved himself as one of the best defensive players in college basketball by breaking an NCAA tournament record for blocks with 31. Withey was the anchor of Kansas' top-ranked defense, leading them deep into the NCAA tournament in both his junior and senior seasons. Jeff Withey isn't projected to be a lottery pick but has the potential to be an elite defensive player in the NBA.
After sitting on the bench behind Cole Aldrich during his freshman season and both Markieff and Marcus Morris his sophomore year, Jeff Withey finally got his chance to be a starter during his junior season with Kansas. He seized his opportunity and eventually set a Big 12 career record for blocks with 311 during his senior year.
Be sure to give me a follow on Twitter @Kevin__OConnor and let me know what players you'd like to see profiled next!
Jeff Withey was the anchor of the Kansas Jayhawk's top-ranked defenses during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He set a Big 12 record with 311 career blocks and an NCAA tournament record in 2013 with 31 blocks. Withey is a stud on the defensive end; whether it's patrolling the paint and blocking shots on help or on the post, it was hard to score against him. In the pick and roll, Withey has trouble because his lack of foot speed but besides that, Withey is a terrific defensive player.
As a senior, Jeff Withey developed a little bit of a post game but is still extremely raw on the offensive end. He only took 14 jump shots, making 8 of them, so there are concerns about his overall offensive skill set. The majority of his baskets are made in transition, on the pick and roll, or on drive and dish situations. In all of those cases, Withey is elite at finishing; he had a 79.2 field goal percentage finishing around the basket.
Jeff Withey didn't impress at the NBA draft combine, with only a 29-inch max vertical but that measurement doesn't account for his ability to elevate quickly. Withey possesses incredible instincts that allow him to time his jump for blocks or to finish alley-oops. Look at this clip to have an idea of what Withey is capable of as an athlete. He might not have an unbelievable vertical but his intangibles to read the play make him appear to be more athletic than he really is.
That doesn't mean that Jeff Withey lacks athleticism. At 6'11" and 222-pounds, Withey has a prototypical NBA body. He could stand to put on some more muscle, especially on his legs, but at 23 years old he is already more developed than most prospects. Withey has a long 7'2" wingspan and 9'3" standing reach, which helps him a lot on the defensive end.
Shot Blocking/Help Defense
Jeff Withey shines as a rim protector on both help and interior defense. This is how he made his mark on the Jayhawk's elite defense this past season and gets the majority of his blocked shots. Withey does an incredible job playing off-ball defense while tracking the ball movement. When a play is made, he has elite closing speed, timing, and leaping ability when going for a block. As a senior, Withey averaged 3.9 blocks per game. He also set an NCAA record for most blocked shots during the tournament with 31, and his 311 career blocked shots give him the most in Big 12 history.
What makes a lot of Withey's blocks special is the fact that he avoids fouling the player and when a block is made, he directs it towards teammates to create an offensive opportunity. Withey only committed 2.1 fouls per game as a senior, which is remarkable considering he averaged 31 minutes per game. He shows great fundamentals by jumping straight up into the air, not towards the man, when attempting a blocked shot; This makes it hard for a foul to be called on him. When a block is made, the ball rarely goes flying out of bounds, instead Withey directs it towards a teammate or keeps it inbounds, giving his team an opportunity on offense.
Boston Celtics fans can thank Jeff Withey for Jared Sullinger. Why is that? Well, check out the embedded clip above to see an example of what Withey did to Sullinger during the NCAA tournament. Sullinger's 5-of-19 performance in that game helped plummet his stock in the draft. Withey had 7 blocked shots, most of them on Sullinger, and his length created some doubt that Sullinger could play in the NBA. Of course, Celtics fans know that he can, but the fact Withey was able to do that to an NBA-level talent makes it even more impressive and gives more evidence that Withey will be a force in the NBA.
Jeff Withey is a superb post defender, making him arguably the best defensive prospect of this class. He rarely allows deep post positioning, making things hard on his opponent from the start. When the ball is thrown to the post, Withey shows sound fundamentals and elite instincts. With a strong, wide base and a 7'2" wingspan, not many players can create space against him. Withey seldom jumps at pump fakes and stays grounded, keeping him in prime position to either block or disrupt a shot attempt.
Not enough can be said about Withey's discipline. After watching a lot of tape on Withey, it's hard to remember many instances when he bit on a pump fake. This will be incredibly important as he goes to the NBA because he will encounter many players on the post that will try to make him bite on advanced moves. Withey will likely stay disciplined and hold his ground, maintaining the fact that he has the potential to be an elite defender on the post.
Perimeter/Pick and Roll Defense
Withey is an average pick and roll defender because he hedges out too far and is slow to get back. Jeff's lack of lateral speed gets him in trouble, though his length can sometimes compensate for his speed deficiencies. In his final game as a college athlete, Jeff Withey had a lot of trouble in the pick and roll against Michigan. Two NBA level talents, Trey Burke and Mitch McGary, did an amazing job of putting Withey into tough spots defensively. Michigan ran lots of pick and rolls throughout the game, like this one; Burke blows by Withey and even draws a foul. In other situations, Withey would hedge too hard, leaving McGary wide open on the baseline.
Interestingly, Jeff Withey actually does quite a good job when playing man-to-man on the perimeter. Whether on a switch or defending his man, Withey does a great job positioning himself between his man and the basket. This puts him in an ideal spot to use his long wingspan to bother his opponent and potentially block a shot. Jeff didn't spend much time on the perimeter but was efficient when he was.
Jeff Withey is very effective finishing at the rim, ranking #1 in the country by converting 79.2 percent of his non-post up baskets. In the pick and roll, Withey is very good from start to finish. He sets good, strong screens, freeing the ball handler to have time and space to make a decision. On the roll, Withey shows good hands when receiving a pass and goes straight up with the ball. He hardly ever bobbles a pass and doesn't bring the ball down like so many big men do.
In drive and dish situations, Jeff Withey is even better after receiving the pass. Whether it's at or above the rim, Withey does a good job of using his size and length to create space between he and the defender, giving him the ability to "find the blue sky" and finish the play. Withey is often knocked for having a lack of aggressiveness on offense but he consistently shows that he knows where to go during a play. For example, if a guard is driving across the baseline, he does a good job of finding an open spot in the paint, like during this play.
Where Withey is strong finishing plays inside, he is weak on the post. Despite having a distinct size advantage over most players, Withey appears to lack strength when posting up. He gets pushed off his spots and this could become a problem for him against some centers in the NBA. Even when Withey does get deep post positioning, his moves are very limited. It's worth noting that he has improved drastically since his junior year. Withey went from having absolutely no secondary post moves to adding a few during his senior year, such as this impressive one. His footwork improved, as did his hook shot from the post, however, everything he does still looks extremely robotic. Because of Withey's inability to create space for himself on the post, a lot of his shots come off looking incredibly sloppy. In fact, a lot of the time Withey seems to move away from the basket as he makes his move instead of towards it, like on this one versus Michigan.
According to Synergy Sports, Jeff Withey attempted only 14 jump shots, making 8 of them, during his senior season at Kansas, so it's quite hard to get a read on how much of a jumper he really has. In any case, the majority of the jumpers Withey took were face-up shots from the post, such as this one. At the NBA Draft Combine, Withey said, "I have a jump shot that I've been working on and trying to perfect. It's my 15-foot jump shot. So pick-and-pop, I think that's something that can be very strong for me and that I'm working on."
If this were the case, it would certainly add an entirely new dimension to Withey's game. He is very strong at setting screens and would now be a threat on pick and pop plays in addition to the pick and roll. Perhaps, the lack of jump shots is more a product of the Jayhawk's system than Withey's abilities.
Some evidence in support of Withey's potential as a shooter is his success at the free throw line. During his junior and senior seasons, Withey shot 75 percent from the free throw line in 348 attempts. Withey has quite good technique, with a high release point and a good follow through. There doesn't seem to be a hitch in his release like many big men have, so that bodes well for his potential heading to the next level.
More often than not, Jeff Withey does a great job of putting a body on his man and boxing out on the defensive end of the floor. He doesn't take his size and strength for granted despite playing with players that are mostly smaller than him at the college level and continues to show good fundamentals in boxing out. Even when he doesn't do that, he still does a good job of leaping and rebounding the ball at its apex. He holds the bold high over his head when needed, not allowing smaller players to reach at the ball for the steal. Offensively, Withey was never that aggressive when going for offensive rebounds but much of that can be contributed to the fact his primarily objective was to get back into good positioning on defense.
One of the most underrated aspects of Jeff Withey's game is his outlet passing. Anytime he brings down a rebound, he is very good at quickly reading the play and making the proper pass. Check out this terrific outlet pass that Withey made against Kansas State. Of course, a big man isn't (and shouldn't) make this play all the time, but it does show Withey's ability to read the play and make a good, accurate pass after bringing down a rebound.
For a player that is projected to be drafted between picks number 20 and 30, Withey sure is underrated. No matter what the reasons are, Withey is arguably the top defender in the draft this year and that is saying something special. In a league that lacks true defensive centers, Jeff certainly fits that role from day one in the league. He has improved on his weaknesses his senior year and has potential to get even better at the next level. You would think that in a league where the Joakim Noahs and Tyson Chandlers of the world are so sought after, Withey would be valued more highly heading into the draft.
The reason for his low ranking on most big boards is because of his lack of an offensive skillset. At 23 years old, there are concerns if he can improve it anymore. That certainly is a worry but if his statements that he does have a jump shot are true, then that's really all he needs to be an effective fourth option on a contending team's starting lineup. Withey is already very good in the pick and roll but if a pick and pop game can develop, he will be much more of a threat on the offensive end.
Even if Withey never develops an advanced post game, he should still be able to carve out his spot in the NBA as a high quality role player. Withey could become nothing other than an elite rim protector and still have a huge role in the league.
How He Fits on the Celtics
Jeff Withey would see playing time in his rookie season with Boston. He's ready to play and would have a perfect mentor in Kevin Garnett to help him improve even more on the defensive end. Withey's only weakness on the defense is his pick and roll game, which could cut his playing time, but he will be a very good rim protector from day one.
The consensus seems to be that the Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins deal was a good one, but Withey would potentially give the C's a perfect replacement for Perkins. It's doubtful that Withey would start, but if Doc Rivers wanted to go with a more defensive oriented frontcourt, Jeff Withey would most certainly be an option there. Playing alongside Garnett, opposing teams would have a difficult time getting any baskets near the rim.
Offensively, Jeff Withey would look good running the floor with Rajon Rondo. He has proven that he can finish in transition, so he could be an option for Rondo whether he's ahead of the play or trailing. Withey has great hands and would be able to handle all passes from a guard like Rondo.