The Dallas Mavericks have finally signed a center. It’s not, y’know, Nerlens Noel, but it is Jeff Withey, previously a backup center with the Utah Jazz. It is good that the Mavericks signed him. It’s no big deal, but it’s good. And just to be clear, though it may not need to be said, Withey is not someone you get because you don’t think you’ll be able to come to terms with Noel.
Withey, a 2nd round pick four years ago who started his career with New Orleans, played in a lot of games for the Jazz but didn’t get a lot of minutes, so it’s hard to get a precise read on him. He has, of course, only played behind great frontcourt players – Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis - so there’s probably some room for him to improve. He is not an “in case they whiff on Noel somehow” move, since he’s not starting caliber. Neither, however, is he awful. He’s consistently shot over 50%, which is important for a fringe center, and he appears to be a good rim defender. Not much of a rebounder, probably. But who really knows.
Withey, if anything, is probably Salah Mejri insurance. For one thing, he’s four years younger. It’s hard to tell anything from the ol’ sample size, but on a rate basis Withey was a better scorer last year, much better from the free throw line (75% to 59%), grabbed 2 fewer rebounds per 36 minutes, and blocked .3 more shots. 2015-2016 Withey is probably a better comparison, since he played more minutes that year, but it looks basically the same. Worse from the floor, better from the line, more productive offensively, more blocks, and fewer rebounds. Probably, the important thing there is blocks – it’s not that it says everything about rim defense, but Salah's primary role was as a shot-blocker and Withey might even block more!
Really, this is the definition of a marginal move. Withey had no extraordinarily impressive outings last year and didn’t necessarily perform when he got minutes. He never grabbed more than 7 boards, and never scored more than ten points. Between December 28th, 2015 and January 10th, 2016 he got 20+ minutes seven times and put up some good lines – an 11-12 night, a 13-9 night, a 12-10 night with 4 blocks, an 8-11 night, a 10-7 night. There may be a little something more there that the Mavs can bring out with their superior coaching and front court needs.
Ultimately, Withey fits the profile of what the Mavs are trying to do this year. He seems capable, he’s cheap, he’s young, he may have some untapped potential. And if not, he’ll be gone in a year, hopefully to another good opportunity.