Jeff Withey is hands down the second-best defensive big man in the draft. The seven-footer from Kansas averaged 3.8 blocks per game this season while anchoring the sixth best defense in the county. Other than Nerlens Noel, there is no one in the draft with better shot blocking skills and instincts than Withey. Just as impressive, he is excellent at contesting shots without fouling having averaged only 2.5 fouls per game while playing more than 30 minutes per night this season. In four years at Kansas, he fouled out of only three games. Jeff is also an excellent weak side and help defender with great defensive vision and positioning.
Offensively, Withey is less comfortable and versatile, but that doesn’t mean he is devoid of skill. Truthfully, despite his relative lack of elite athleticism, Withey might be the best finisher at the hoop in college basketball. He doesn’t sky when he jumps by any means, but he does elevate with great quickness, which is just as important when trying to finish in a crowd. He also has great mobility and works well in the pick and roll. He is most effective as a scorer when facing the hoop.
Like most seven-foot draft prospects not named O’Neal or Bynum, Withey needs to add strength. Though he is bigger than yesterday’s profilee Cody Zeller, Withey is still too light to guard elite NBA big men in the post. It’s actually not clear how good a post defender he will be considering he didn’t see a lot of post play in college.
Withey won’t be able to step in and be an elite defender right away. The type of player he’ll see in the NBA is nothing like what he defended in college, and his game will have to evolve accordingly.
Like Zeller, Withey leaves a lot to be desired as a rebounder. For the year, he averaged only 8.5 rebounds per game which was well off the leader board in college hoops. And he didn’t help his limited offensive game by grabbing so few offensive boards (2.3 per contest.)
Offensively, he has some serious limitations. He is a mess with his back to the hoop. And he only attempted 14 jumpers this season. He will have to develop some sort of post game or mid-range jumper if he hopes to contribute for an NBA team. At this point he is very much a 1-dimensional player, and at 23 years old, it’s unclear how much he can improve.
With just a few weeks before the draft, Withey’s stock is a fixed commodity. Unlike Zeller, who is trying to transition to a new position, Withey is who he is at this point. What will determine how high or low he goes in the draft will depend on whether or not teams will commit to developing him into a valuable defensive role player. Withey has the traits and the acumen to be an elite interior defender, but he will need to spend time translating his game to the NBA. For a team willing to make that commitment, he offers great value with very little risk. The only thing that might cause him to sink lower is teams reaching for riskier players with greater upside.
How would he fit with the Suns?
At this point, Withey is projected a bit high to be available at pick #30. But as the draft gets closer, it would be very easy to see Withey slip as higher upside players get a chance to wow scouts who haven’t seen much of them. Withey could definitely be in play when the Suns make their second first-round selection on draft day. If the Suns did select him, Withey would bring defensive intensity and shot blocking to a team that didn’t have much of either last season. It’s easy to see him being the defensive anchor of the second unit, which would be crucial for the Suns who frequently lost leads last season with the starters on the bench. Offensively, there’s just no way to predict what Withey will bring to the table other than put backs and dump-off dunks. I think a good comparison for him is another Kansas product, Nick Collison. If Withey can match Collison’s defensive intensity and develop some modicum of a set shot, he could have a long career in the NBA and be a valuable selection for the Suns.
And 1 … A second-rounder to consider
One player the Suns could take with their later second-round pick is Memphis’ Adonis Thomas. Thomas is a bit of a long shot as he is currently ranked #65 on Chad Ford’s Top 100. Coming out of high school, Thomas was projected as a lottery pick, but he suffered an injury during his freshman year and failed to regain that lofty projections this season. Thomas’ negatives are that he is a bit inconsistent offensively and a bit of small forward/power forward tweener. The positives are his incredible athleticism, high motor, strong body, and high basketball IQ. At 6’7” 232 lbs, Thomas is ready for an NBA jersey. Combine that size with a 40” vertical and high IQ, and he could definitely be molded into the steal of the draft. One of the Suns’ second round picks should definitely be spent on a high-upside guy with shooting issues. I think Thomas could very well be that guy. If the Suns call his name, Thomas will give Coach Hornacek a chance to prove himself as both a shot doctor and player developer.
It might not make a ton of sense at first blush for Thomas to be coming out this early with such a low projected draft slot, but he had a very smart, trustworthy coach in college (Josh Pastner) and a well-respected agent (Happy Walters) who is known for taking on raw, unheralded clients who go on to surprise and produce in the NBA. Thomas has a solid group advising him. Maybe they know something about him we don’t.