As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We’ll start it off with Nos. 15-11. These former Kansas standouts probably aren’t going to begin trending on Twitter or make many headlines. Still, some will play key roles on playoff-caliber teams.
And one youngster will try to prove he belongs in the league.
No. 15: Darrell Arthur — Denver Nuggets
If Darrell Arthur was a football player, he’d be an interior lineman whose name never gets called on a broadcast. The 6-foot-9 forward just executes his assignments without much flash or fuss, and to the delight of his coaches, rarely makes mistakes.
While the eighth-year veteran from KU is well respected for his reliability and demeanor, coming off the bench for Denver to grab rebounds and successfully defend pick-and-rolls on the perimeter isn’t the most glamorous role in the NBA, and it’s for those reasons that our list begins with Arthur.
At 28, he’s in the prime of his career, and coming off a season in which he produced 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds as a Nuggets reserve playing 21.7 minutes a game.
Arthur is a more valuable piece than some of the other Jayhawks in the league, but it’s just hard to envision fans stopping what they’re doing to tune in to a Denver game for the purposes of keeping up with his career.
No. 14: Nick Collison — Oklahoma City Thunder
Speaking of professionals, few veterans in the NBA are as respected for their dirty work as much as Nick Collison, aka Mr. Thunder. Entering his 13th season with the franchise, Collison’s gray beard hairs might bring him some grief from his much younger teammates, but the backup to Oklahoma City’s backup big men works so hard and knows the league so well that OKC likes to keep him around as a mentor and occasional fill-in.
The 35-year-old played a career-low 11.8 minutes a game last season, and when he does check into games we won’t see Collison do much more than compete for rebounds, takes some charges and dive on the floor. Still, OKC is embarking on its post-Kevin Durant era, and no player on the roster figures to influence how the Thunder go about handling the challenge ahead in the Western Conference, particularly behind the scenes, more than Russell Westbrook and Collison. Oklahoma City keeps Collison around because of what he brings to the locker room and the organization’s culture, but from a viewing standpoint it’s also entertaining to watch NBA old guys outcompete far superior athletes for a few minutes here and there.
No. 13: Jeff Withey — Utah Jazz
The backup 7-footer isn’t expected to play a ton for Utah, a franchise with a sneaky-deep roster which some around the NBA think will propel the Jazz into the playoffs this season, but Jeff Withey could be poised to make more of an impact on the court this season than he has since he left KU in 2013.
Witney has averaged just 11.0 minutes a game in his three professional seasons, but enters the year as the primary backup for Jazz center Rudy Gobert. It should be interesting to see if Withey can make a leap in his production with more opportunities. Per 36 minutes in 2015-16, the reserve center averaged 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
Don’t be surprised to see Withey swats or jams show up on social media or highlights shows, particularly when he plays a key part in the Jazz knocking off some of the more renowned teams in the league.
No. 12: Brandon Rush — Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, going from Golden State to Minnesota would’ve seemed like a penthouse-to-outhouse move for Rush, a ninth-year guard. However, his free-agent signing with the Timberwolves this summer couldn’t have come at a better time. The franchise, built around young stars-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, added one of the league’s best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, as well, in the offseason. The perennial lottery team could jump into the playoffs by season’s end, and the organization should only see more progress from there.
Plus, as thrilling as it must’ve been for Rush to play for the back-to-back West champion Warriors, he could contribute a lot more to a young Minnesota roster than he ever would’ve got a chance to do on Golden State’s star-studded perimeter.
Rush played 21.9 minutes a game for the T’wolves during the preseason, averaged 7.1 points and made 12 of his 20 3-pointers. Between his defensive ability and knack for spotting up behind the arc, Rush projects as a solid complimentary bench player for Minnesota.
No. 11: Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans
The guy barely played at Kansas. How is he going to get any run in the NBA? Actually, that’s what makes Cheick Diallo’s rookie season so intriguing.
Odds are New Orleans, much like KU coach Bill Self, won’t have much use for the 20-year-old off the bat. The 6-foot-9 big is too raw to be relied upon within a rotation at this point. However, the Pelicans seem to like his energy and down-the-road potential. There will be plenty of nights when Diallo doesn’t even suit up for his new team. When he does get spot minutes, they’ll come late in blowouts most likely.
Without a doubt, Diallo is a longterm project. The months ahead will include the first steps he’ll take toward whatever his career becomes: high-energy role player in the paint, highly-rated prep prospect that never met his full potential or somewhere in between? We’ll have to wait a few years to learn the answer.
During the past few days, players for the NBA’s 30 franchises posed for photos, answered questions and took in media day festivities with varying degrees of seriousness.
That means it’s time to get the old ’Hawks in the NBA blog up and firing again. At this moment 19 former Kansas players draw paychecks in The Association, and they all — well, almost all of them — had their moments in the spotlight at media days.
From rookies just getting started, to veterans joining new teams to role players fitting in, here are some of the KU-related social media highlights from around the league.
COLE ALDRICH, L.A. CLIPPERS
CLIFF ALEXANDER, PORTLAND
DARRELL ARTHUR, DENVER
TARIK BLACK, L.A. LAKERS
MARIO CHALMERS, MIAMI
In case you were wondering, “Spo” is Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, and Chalmers’ “new role” will be him coming off the bench.
NICK COLLISON, OKLAHOMA CITY
JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA
If you were curious about how Joel Embiid is handling his ongoing injury and rehab process, you’re not alone.
Appropriately enough, the injured-for-another-entire-season Embiid wasn’t a part of the 76ers’ media day, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
Presumably, he’ll attend a media day and play in the NBA one of these years.
Embiid’s last known whereabouts? Going to see the Pope.
DREW GOODEN, WASHINGTON
Before looking for Drew Gooden content, I thought, What’s that maniac up to?
Well, he’s up to this:
That dude has to be a blast to cover. Rarely not entertaining.
KIRK HINRICH, CHICAGO
BEN MCLEMORE, SACRAMENTO
MARCUS MORRIS, DETROIT
The Pistons’ Twitter account did a tweet Q&A with a number of Detroit players Monday, but apparently Marcus bounced before they could get one rolling with him.
As a side note, ESPN’s NBA folks ranked Marcus Morris as the 191st-best player in the league. So there’s that.
MARKIEFF MORRIS, PHOENIX
By far the biggest ’Hawks in the NBA news to come out of media days was presumably disgruntled forward Markieff Morris putting on a happy face and stating he wants to be in Phoenix.
That’s not what he was saying back in August, when he told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey: “One thing for sure, I am not going to be there.”
At the time at least, Markieff was hot and bothered about Phoenix shipping his twin brother and roommate Marcus off to the Pistons. He still might be a little sour with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough about that transaction.
SASHA KAUN, CLEVELAND
Sasha Kaun is Russian. Timofey Mozgov is Russion. Hijinks ensued.
KELLY OUBRE JR., WASHINGTON
Looks like Kelly Oubre Jr. loosened up and got comfortable at the Wizards’ media day.
PAUL PIERCE, L.A. CLIPPERS
THOMAS ROBINSON, BROOKLYN
BRANDON RUSH, GOLDEN STATE
Yes, Brandon Rush won an NBA championship with the Warriors. But, no, there isn’t a lot of media interest in him out in Oakland.
Upon posting this blog, Rush hadn't appeared in any Golden State tweets — or, really, anywhere else in the Twitterverse.
ANDREW WIGGINS, MINNESOTA
Unlike Marcus Morris, the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year was able to answer a few questions on Twitter.
JEFF WITHEY, UTAH
When the clock strikes midnight and June turns to July, NBA free agent season officially begins.
With the 2015 draft out of the way, teams can begin attempting to plug the last — or many — holes on their rosters by offering millions of dollars to the players whose previous contracts just expired.
While national attention turns to the rumors and meetings surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Loves and other marquee names, the coming days and weeks will determine the professional futures of some former Kansas stars, too.
Here is a look at seven Jayhawks in play as free agency begins.
Paul Pierce | Washington | F | age: 37
Pierce might be on his fourth team in four seasons by the time the summer signing frenzy finishes. Now a 17-year league veteran, the former Boston Celtic and one-year Brooklyn Net surprised many last summer by signing on with Washington.
Though the Wizards, who made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as Pierce averaged 14.6 points and 4.2 rebounds this past spring, didn’t expect him to opt out of his deal this summer, the veteran forward decided to give himself some options as he nears retirement.
While D.C. remains a legit candidate to re-sign him, the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston both are reportedly interested in adding the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, who won a title with the Celtics, while playing for now-Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
In a piece from The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, Wizards coach Randy Wittman remained positive about keeping Pierce in the fold.
“End-of-the-year meetings, talking to him here after the season, I think he was really pleased with the situation that he walked into here, what he was able to help with this team, the future of this team and where we’re headed,” the coach said. “I think those are all great positives. I feel very positive that we’re going to be able to have him back in the fold next year.”
Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer, however, thinks Pierce will chase another title with Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers.
Thomas Robinson | Philadelphia | PF | age: 24
Three years removed from Sacramento taking him with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Robinson likely will join his fifth NBA franchise this summer. The athletic, raw 24-year-old post player experienced a crazy couple days in February, when Portland traded him to Denver, the Nuggets promptly waived him, Brooklyn planned to sign him and Philadelphia snagged him off waivers before he could become an in-season free agent.
The New York Post’s Tim Bontemps reported Brooklyn, who planned to sign Robinson if he cleared waivers, will target him in free agency.
“He could provide energy and rebounding as a low-cost reserve big, an area where the Nets could use help,” Bontemps wrote.
The decision is all Robinson’s, though. Other suitors could emerge, and he’ll likely take the deal that is best for his financial future.
Upon landing with the 76ers, Robinson averaged 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 18.5 minutes a game.
Cole Aldrich | New York | C | age: 26
While the Knicks figure to actively recruit some bigger available names, Newsday reports Aldrich is one of the Knicks’ own free agents who is likely to return.
Aldrich told the Journal-World a couple weeks ago he didn’t yet know what kind of deals would come his way.
“It’s just nice to get out there again,” he said. “It’s another summer to get better, and that’s all that matters.”
As a young, inexpensive big man coming off a career year (5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds), Aldrich shouldn’t have any trouble finding steady work.
Darrell Arthur | Denver | PF | age: 27
A 6-foot-9 backup big man, Arthur won’t create a lot of buzz, but The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg put the former KU standout on his list of “sleeper” free agents. Some advanced stats, cited by The Post, reveal Arthur’s worth:
“The Denver Nuggets were 9.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively this season with Arthur in the lineup,” Greenberg wrote, “ and he held opponents to 0.9 points per play when he was called on to defend in the post.”
CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore ranked Arthur as the 37th-best available free agent, ahead of Pierce (40th).
Drew Gooden | Washington | PF | age: 33
Gooden has stuck around the league for 13 seasons, so he must be doing something right. The veteran big man reinvented his game to remain relevant and served Washington this past season as a stretch power forward.
Gooden averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in the Wizards’ playoff run. According to The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, Gooden had a “we’ll see what happens” approach to his free agency.
“I feel like I was a component to help get to where we at right now,” Gooden said. “… Whether I am here or somewhere else, I will continue to get better and fill this role I have taken with the Wizards. I would love for it to be here but if it is not, this is a business and I can swallow that pill, too.”
Jeff Withey | New Orleans | C | age: 25
The Pelicans haven’t used Withey much (9.9 career minutes per game) in his two seasons of service, but that doesn’t mean they want to dump him in the offseason.
The Advocate reported New Orleans would extend a one-year, qualifying offer to Withey, a restricted free agent. If Withey doesn’t find an offer from another franchise for more money, the Pelicans will keep him for next season and he’ll become a true free agent — unrestricted — in 2016. They can retain him for $1.1 million next season in that scenario, or match any offer another team comes up with for the seldom used backup center (2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.0 minutes this past season).
Xavier Henry | L.A. Lakers | G/F | age: 24
Actually, Henry has been a free agent since last December. After a breakout fourth season in 2013-14 (10 points per game), the young swingman ruptured left achilles this past November, cutting his fifth season short. The Lakers then cut Henry in order to sign another former KU player, Tarik Black.
Henry’s history of injury problems might scare away some organizations, and no one will sign him until he’s back healthy and cleared by a team’s medical personnel. If he can get back healthy, though, and recapture the kind of play he displayed almost two years ago, Henry could emerge as a wild card addition that no one is mentioning at this juncture. Considering all the variables, the offseason uncertainty figures to stretch on for months for Henry.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
The 2014-15 regular season concluded this week in the NBA, marking the end of the road for the majority of former Kansas players in the league.
Cole Aldrich, Darell Arthur, Tarik Black, Ben McLemore, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Andrew Wiggins? All of them already find themselves in offseason mode.
Even playoff regulars Mario Chalmers of Miami and Nick Collison of Oklahoma City are on the outside, looking in, after monumental injuries derailed their team’s seasons.
So when you start watching the 2015 NBA Playoffs, you’ll only find five Jayhawks playing on the 16 teams chasing a championship.
TORONTO VS. WASHINGTON
As you might have figured, Paul Pierce is the most prominent KU product in the hunt. Even at 37, “The Truth” still finds ways to make an impact on the floor. Now in his 17th season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.6 steals in 26.2 minutes, and made 44.7% of his shots, 38.9% of his 3-pointers and 78.1% of his free throws.
Pierce proved last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets he can still come through with game-winning plays during crunch time in the playoffs.
And he also became quite a villain in Toronto in the process.
A pseudo first-round rematch — Pierce vs. the Raptors — should provide plenty of entertainment. Especially when you consider how competitive Pierce is and that he is getting closer to retirement.
The 2008 NBA Finals MVP spoke about the urgency of the postseason with The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. As a veteran leader on a team that features an explosive young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Pierce’s responsibilities these days aren’t limited to play-making.
“I just try to get the guys to focus in on the task at hand. These are special moments,” Pierce told The Washington Post. “You got to take advantage of these moments. There’s nothing like playoff basketball. The intensity, the smell of the popcorn, the national televised games every night. This is where good players become great players, and you try to relish these moments and that’s what I’m trying to [instill] into these guys, that every moment counts.”
The Wizards, of course, have another veteran from Kansas: Drew Gooden. In his 13th season, the journeyman power forward comes off the bench for Washington and has provided two double-digit rebound games, as well as a pair of double-digit scoring efforts in April.
In D.C.’s last 10 games, Gooden has seen his minutes and production go up: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 25.7 minutes.
Compare that with his season numbers: 5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 16.9 minutes.
If Pierce and Gooden can find some of their youthful bounce inside those high-mileage legs, Washington might have a chance to advance to the next round.
MILWAUKEE VS. CHICAGO
Another old man by NBA standards, 12th-year guard Kirk Hinrich has a chance to play a complimentary role for one of the Eastern Conference favorites, Chicago. That is assuming he is healthy enough to do so.
According to an ESPN.com report, Hinrich didn’t practice Friday and he was listed as uncertain for Saturday’s series opener, while recovering from a hyperextended right knee.
Hinrich, who plays alongside ultra-talented Bulls Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, sat out the final two games of the regular season. He hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game since March 28.
If/when Hinrich plays, he’ll mainly be asked to facilitate and defend. He averaged just 5.7 points this season in 24.4 minutes a game, shot 37.3% from the field and made 34.5% of his 3-pointers. He hasn’t knocked down more than one 3-pointer in a game since Jan. 23.
GOLDEN STATE VS. NEW ORLEANS
Don’t hold your breath waiting to see former KU stars in this series.
Brandon Rush is lucky enough to play for the league’s best team, but Golden State — No. 1 in the Western Conference — doesn’t need to use him much when the Warriors have guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.
Rush, who only played in 33 games this season, last played significant minutes (23) against Denver in mid-March and went scoreless. He didn’t play in five straight games before making brief appearances in three of the last four, highlighted by 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal in 14 minutes in the finale.
The Warriors might advance far enough for Rush to be the last Jayhawk standing in the playoffs, but when you see him it will usually be on the bench cheering on one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory.
The Pelicans’ Jeff Withey finds himself in the same situation (except that his season figures to end much sooner, playing for No. 8 New Orleans).
The former Kansas pivot only played 7.0 minutes a game in the regular season, which ranked him next-to-last on the team. With big men Anthony Davis (an emerging superstar), Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca eating up all the minutes inside, Withey isn’t a part of the Pelicans’ game plan.
The lean 7-footer averaged 2.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks this season while shooting 50% from the field.
In theory, he could get some run if New Orleans finds itself on the wrong end of a blowout. Withey last made a field goal on March 20, at Golden State. The Warriors won, 112-96, and he played 29 minutes, going for 14 points (5-for-9 shooting) and 8 rebounds.
Mostly, he should be ready to pose for any celebratory post-game photos quickly, having not expended much energy beforehand.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Get ready to have your mind blown. This is a blog about a blog.
We have second-year NBA center Jeff Withey, of the New Orleans Pelicans, to thank for this meta experience.
Last week, Kansas University’s all-time block king (311) started up his own blog — food and fashion.
In Withey’s own words, here is a synopsis of his new venture:
“As a professional athlete I get to travel to great cities and experience some awesome food. Along with my love for food and travel, I also love fashion. The NBA is known to have some of the best dressed men in all of sports. At least that's what we like to think ;-) Here's a look into what inspires my style and my taste buds!”
So far, Withey has posted some photos from a market in Denver, as well as some insight into his style and go-to online stores.
On the court, Withey’s Pelicans are off to a good start, at 7-5. Even better news for him: the past couple of games have actually brought him playing time.
The lean 7-footer logged a season-high 16 minutes Friday at Denver (where he responded with nine points and six rebounds), and he played 11 minutes the next night, at Utah (eight points, two blocks).
Considering he already has six DNP-CD’s on the season, that’s a step in the right direction for the young backup big man.
Hunker down, get hydrated and tell your loved ones you will see them next spring.
Hopefully that’s not your mindset, but people should be warned: The at times seemingly never-ending NBA regular season is in full effect.
Thankfully for us, all we have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy. To make sure you’re fully prepared for the long haul, we have rolled out a season outlook for each former Kansas University player who currently calls The Association home.
Jeff Withey — New Orleans Pelicans
7-foot Center | Second season
2013-14 numbers: 58 games | 11.8 minutes | 3.3 points | 2.6 rebounds | 0.9 blocks | 53.3 FG% | 71.2 FT%
If you haven’t heard much about Jeff Withey recently, there is a reason for that.
The second-year big man out of KU plays for a New Orleans team with bigger/stronger/more talented options in the paint.
The Pelicans aren’t your typical NBA team. They start two guys at power forward and center who give them a twin-towers look on defense. NBA superstar-in-the-making Anthony Davis is their 6-foot-10, shot-swatting 4, and Omer Asik gives them a 7-foot defensive presence at the 5.
If New Orleans wants a little more offensive pop, it can bring Ryan Anderson in as a stretch-4 and slide Davis over to center. And the Pelicans’ backup 5 is 7-foot-2 Alexis Ajinca.
All of those guys push Withey down to the bottom of the depth chart.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams has only opted to play Withey in three of the team’s eight games. Withey played just two minutes apiece in Pelicans wins over Orlando and the Lakers, and played five minutes in an absolute rout of Minnesota.
Basically, if Withey is on the floor, the game is already over.
As Nakia Hogan wrote for NOLA.com, Withey finished his rookie season strong and he hoped to play a more prominent role for the up-and-coming franchise this season.
However, Withey struggled to establish himself in the preseason, making it easy for New Orleans to keep him at the end of the bench.
Williams told NOLA.com that he thinks the 7-footer will work through the issues that slowed his growth.
"Obviously, Jeff is a guy who hasn't played as well as he would have liked to," Williams said. "But he constantly works on his game, so it'll come."
So what do we expect out of Withey for the 2014-15 season?
Unless some drastic change comes from Withey’s play in practices or injuries plague New Orleans’ frontcourt, it doesn’t look like he will be part of the team’s plans.
The 82-game NBA season is such a grind, though, Withey is sure to get some minutes one way or another along the way. Will he make the most of those opportunities, and prove he belongs in the Pelicans’ rotation? That part is up to him.
If he does, his second season in the league could be a fun one, with New Orleans trying to surge out of the lottery, and into the playoffs.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks:
With his rookie year behind him, New Orleans center Jeff Withey wasted little time addressing his shortcomings — all of which he discovered existed the hard way, by getting pushed around inside — from his first tour of the NBA.
Kansas University’s career leader in blocked shots (311), the 7-footer from San Diego only swatted 50 in limited minutes (11.8 per game) for the Pelicans this past season. Speaking to media at the organization’s mini-camp earlier this week, Withey said his offseason plan of attack, which includes playing for New Orleans at the Las Vegas summer league, is designed to get him more confidence in the post and improve his defensive rebounding.
Playing in the paint at the highest level of basketball, the young center realized quickly putting some more bulk on his frame would do him a lot of good in every aspect of the game. In a video interview posted on New Orleans’ website, Withey said he has added 17 pounds since his rookie season ended in April.
New Orleans played its young backup big 18 minutes or more in eight of its final nine games. With that, Withey said, he began to feel as though he belonged.
“I knew I could play at this level. It’s just, once you get here, you’ve got to get the confidence and get the timing down and everything, and luckily I had good vets to help me out with that,” he said. “Now that it’s here, I just want to take full advantage of it.”
Thanks to the makeup of the Pelicans’ summer league roster, Withey will have extensive opportunities to further promote his worth. All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, center Omer Asik (reportedly acquired by New Orleans) and stretch forward Ryan Anderson figure to begin next season ahead of Withey on the depth chart. But the organization’s summer league coach, Bryan Gates, told The Times-Picayune’s Nakia Hogan he expects Withey to lead in Las Vegas.
“Everybody talks about we only have one draft pick (second-round choice Russ Smith, out of Louisville),” Gates said in Hogan’s story. “What’s summer league for? Summer league is for Jeff. Let’s see what Jeff can do.”
In his summer debut Friday night, a New Orleans victory against the D-League Select team, Withey scored eight points, secured seven rebounds and blocked three shots in 25 minutes, a team-high.
In 58 games as a rookie, Withey averaged 3.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. However, as Hogan reported, those numbers went up to 8.1 points, 3.9 boards and 2.3 denials in 21.3 minutes during his final 10 games, when he made 60.8 percent of his shot attempts.
Pelicans head coach Monty Williams told The Times-Picayune that Withey still has a lot to learn, and Williams plans to work with him one-on-one in Vegas to get the most out of him.
“As good as he was last year, he’s still like most young guys,” Williams told Hogan. “He’s got to improve up here (mentally) to take advantage of the rest of his physical abilities.”
The only summer squad player who spent the entire regular season with New Orleans, Withey said the offense might not look too fluid in Vegas. But the man who hopes to help anchor the interior defensively for the Pelicans in the 2014-15 season could prove he deserves that role by protecting the rim the way he used to at Kansas.
“We should have the smarts,” Withey said, “and defense is just about knowing where you’re supposed to be, hustling, and we have that right now.”
While Las Vegas became the center of the NBA universe this week, thanks to the arrival of the most sought after free agent on the planet, LeBron James, it will remain the league's epicenter for the next 11 days as far less known players try to make names for themselves.
The Vegas summer league opens Friday, and between now and July 21, seven former Kansas University players will be in uniform — some just trying to work on their games and become valuable pieces for their franchises, others hoping to impress the right decision-makers enough to land contracts.
Cleveland's No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, rookie Andrew Wiggins, highlights the Jayhawks playing in Sin City. The explosive 19-year-old wing gets his first taste of the league at 7 p.m. (CST) Friday against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Duke's Jabari Parker.
Wiggins sat down for a video interview with Fred McLeod, of the Cavs' website, and said he already is getting comfortable with his summer league teammates.
"I'm settling (in) pretty good," the one-and-done KU product said. "Coming in as a rookie, you know, there's a lot of new plays thrown at you. You just kind of have to get situated and feel comfortable — if you have any questions, ask questions. You really don't know the offense too well, so you've just got to learn."
McLeod asked whether Wiggins had to "flush out" the offensive sets he learned at Kansas and "learn from scratch." Wiggins said that wasn't the case. Rather he needed to familiarize himself with the intricacies of plays — where to dribble, when to look for a hand-off, knowing where to find back-door cutters.
"Some things from Kansas really translated to the next level," Wiggins said. "But also, there's a lot of new things I'm learning here, too."
The Cavs have made it clear they expect the 6-foot-8 rookie with a 7-foot wingspan to impact the game on defense immediately. Wiggins said his interest in that aspect of the game first materialized when he was in elementary school.
"I just always liked to defend," he said. "You know, my father (former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins) always told me that defense will bring you far. So that's always something I try to key in on."
Offensively, of course, the young skywalker admitted running the floor in transition is what he's best at right now.
Mostly, Wiggins said first-year Cleveland coach David Blatt wants to see him and his teammates play with effort.
"He's not gonna take us out for missing shots," the former Jayhawk said. "He's gonna take us out for not bringing energy, not working hard."
A year ago, as a rookie, Jeff Withey didn't know what to expect out of the summer league, or the NBA in general. This time around, the 7-footer told media at New Orleans' mini-camp, he has a much different outlook.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," the Pelicans big man said in a video on the team's website. "I felt like I ended the season pretty confidently and I'm just trying to bring that into summer league. It's not as stressful for me, just because I know I'm under contract, I know that I have a year underneath my belt, so I know kind of what to expect. Last year was kind of a little frantic and (I was) kind of just worried about everything. Now I get to sit back and actually just play."
With one more year of NBA experience than his former KU cohort Withey, Portland's Thomas Robinson said, individually, his offseason will be about improving his mid-range ability and developing go-to moves in the post.
"Other than that, just being smarter with the basketball — being able to read things before they happen and stuff like that," the 6-foot-10 power forward told the Trail Blazers' website.
What's more, Robinson said he just feels happier and more confident now as a player.
"I'm in a good place right now," he added, "so I plan to stay here."
Unrestricted free agent Cole Aldrich has played four years in the league and he'll suit up in Vegas with New York, the franchise that signed him to a one-year deal late last September, a little more than a month before the start of the season. The 6-11 center told the Journal-World he wants to re-sign with the Knicks. These summer league games could make that happen.
"This summer is a little different than last summer," Aldrich said earlier this week. "I think things this summer will get done quicker. Last summer was wait, wait, wait."
The other former Jayhawks playing in Las Vegas are: Tarik Black (Houston), Elijah Johnson (Philadelphia) and Ben McLemore (Sacramento). Like Aldrich, Black, Little and Johnson are not under contract with a franchise. Black also played for Houston in the Orlando summer league, where he had 11 points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 21 minutes on Thursday.
Let's face it. Jeff Withey's transition to the NBA has had its down moments in his rookie season.
But as his first-year campaign reaches its final week, it appears the lean 7-foot center out of Kansas might be finding his way in New Orleans. While Withey's season averages of 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.9 minutes a game are about as exciting as a Utah vs. Milwaukee game, he has proven of late he can produce when given the opportunity.
In the rookie's last five games, he has played 20.5 minutes and averaged 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while hitting 78% of his shots. Seventy-eight!
Earlier this week, Darrell Williams wrote about how Withey's growth has pleased the Pelicans. The team's coach, Monty Williams, told the New Orleans Advocate Withey has helped offset some of the Pelicans' injury problems of late.
“Jeff has come a long way this season. 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).”
After developing into a hard-nosed defender of the rim at KU, Withey had to acclimate himself to playing in the paint in the NBA, where things can get rough.
“You don’t have to be big to be physical. Some of it definitely is that the game has slowed down for me now. I understand things a lot better.”
With New Orleans star Anthony Davis sitting out Wednesday due to back spasms, Withey tried to carry the team himself in a 94-88 Pelicans loss to Phoenix. Withey scored 17 points — a career high — and added a couple of rebounds, three assists and a block.
The backup center and his bench mates helped get New Orleans back in the game, John Reid wrote for The Times-Picayune. The rookie big man out of Kansas had this to say:
"We try to bring a spark to our team when its needed. We definitely played pretty well tonight.''
New Orleans lost its sixth game in a row, but it was definitely Withey's night. If the numbers and highlights don't prove that, this GIF should.
Paul Pierce on verge of 25K points
After scoring 14 points to help Brooklyn complete a four-game season sweep of two-time defending champion Miami earlier this week, the man known as "The Truth" appeared in no hurry to reach a significant milestone.
Pierce sat out the Nets' loss at Orlando Wednesday due to a right hip pointer injury, even though he currently needs just five points to reach 25,000 for his career.
As Rod Boone of Newsday reported, the only active players who have put up that many points are Pierce's Brooklyn teammate Kevin Garnett, the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki.
As Pierce closes in on the elite mark — only 17 players in the history of the NBA have scored 25,000 career points — it's probably safe to assume the former KU All-American is on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Adrian Dantley and Larry Bird never reached 25K — as pointed out in a SportsNetwork.com column.
Pierce could reach the landmark number as soon as Friday night against Atlanta. If not then, the Nets have three more regular-season dates in the coming week.
Brooklyn, which began the season looking woeful but now has a playoff spot in the East locked up, could be the final stop in Pierce's illustrious career. Speculation already has begun that he will re-sign with the Nets.
Thomas Robinson, teammates try to keep straight faces
Second-year power forward Thomas Robinson has made his share of incredible plays this season for Portland.
But there might be a new champion in the category of most remarkable YouTube clip starring the man known in Lawrence as T-Rob.
The 6-foot-10, powerful sub and a few of his teammates appeared on an episode of the IFC series Portlandia.
The show's stars, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, play a pair of feminist dance team coaches who try to give the Trail Blazers a pep talk after a loss.
In other words: This is amazing.
Robinson got to roll his eyes, shake his head and deliver a few of straight-faced lines. Not bad for an acting debut. (For a professional athlete.)
'Hawks in the NBA standings
Only six days remain in the 82-game marathon that is the regular season, so here's a look at where all of the NBA's Jayhawks stand in the hunt for the playoffs.
We'll rank the Kansas products according to their franchise's record.
No. 1 — Nick Collison/Oklahoma City (57-21)
Currently No. 2 seed in West
Clinched Northwest Division title/playoff berth
No. 2 — Mario Chalmers/Miami (53-25)
Currently No. 2 seed in East
Clinched Southeast Division title/playoff berth
No. 3 — Thomas Robinson/Portland (51-28)
Currently No. 5 seed in West
Clinched playoff berth
No. 4 — Markieff Morris & Marcus Morris/Phoenix (47-31)
- Currently No. 7 seed in West
No. 5 — Kirk Hinrich/Chicago (46-32)
Currently No. 4 seed in East
Clinched playoff berth
No. 6 — Paul Pierce/Brooklyn (43-35)
Currently No. 5 seed in East
Clinched playoff berth
No. 7 — Drew Gooden/Washington (40-38)
Currently No. 7 seed in East
Clinched playoff berth
No. 8 — Darrell Arthur/Denver (35-44)
- Eliminated from playoff contention in West
No. 9 — Cole Aldrich/New York (33-45)
- Currently No. 9 in East, two games behind Atlanta
No. 10 — Jeff Withey/New Orleans (32-46)
- Eliminated from playoff contention in West
No. 11 — Ben McLemore/Sacramento (27-52)
- Eliminated from playoff contention in West
No. 12 — Xavier Henry/L.A. Lakers (25-53)
- Eliminated from playoff contention in West
No. 13 — Brandon Rush/Utah (24-54)
- Eliminated from playoff contention in West
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Cancel the party. Return your Pelicans T-shirts (unless you only bought them to celebrate Jeff Withey).
The reunion is over, and it ended before it ever had a chance to start.
Two days after New Orleans acquired Tyshawn Taylor in a trade with Brooklyn, reuniting him with former Kansas teammate Withey, the Pelicans waived Taylor on Thursday. He never even played a game with the team.
That's life in the NBA.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams told John Reid of NOLA.com he thought Taylor wasn't a good fit:
"We just released him so he could go somewhere else if somebody wanted to pick him up,'' Williams said.
At least one rumor out there has Taylor possibly signing with the Los Angeles Clippers, who are down a point guard with Chris Paul injured.
Withey makes most of his minutes
The waiving of Taylor might have been bad news for Withey, but the big man has to feel good about his last game. The Pelicans lost, 114-97, to Sacramento on Tuesday, but Withey played a season-high 27 minutes and the rookie big man scored 14 points — a new career high.
Nakla Hogan, of NOLA.com, wrote about Withey's breakout game, which included 5-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals.
Withey told Hogan mental reps and practice work made him ready when his coach gave him an opportunity (his previous season high for minutes was 18):
"As a rookie, I've been watching where everybody is going and how other guys play, so now the game is slowing down for me a little bit when I'm out there," Withey said. "In the beginning of the year I would go out there and just run around like my head was cut off. Now I know the plays and where to be and now it's making things a lot easier."
In each of Withey's last three games, he has played at least 14 minutes. That's a far cry from the previous 30, in which he never played more than nine minutes and had several DNP's.
New Orleans has suffered some injuries in its front court, and that could give Withey a chance to establish himself as a key reserve:
"When I go out there with the second group I can bring energy. All my points (against Sacramento) was off dish offs. I don't create or anything. We have so many scorers on our team, I just have to be in the right place at the right time. It makes my job very easy."
Check out the highlight's from Withey's big night below. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this kind of production and/or remain a part of the Pelicans' plans for the future.
Markieff Morris key to Suns' success
Throughout this season, Phoenix backup forward Markieff Morris has had a lot to do with his team's success.
It turned out he was capable of contributing to Suns losses by not playing well, too. During a recent five-game road trip, the third-year forward slumped, making just 29 percent of his shots and averaging only 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek knew Morris's struggles could derail the positive momentum Phoenix (now 24-17) had created this season, as one of the NBA's more surprising teams — during the road trip, Phoenix went 1-4.
In a radio interview detailed by Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com, Hornacek said he spoke with the big man about busting out of the slump:
"Basically, I grabbed him after practice one day and I said 'Markieff, we need you, you're our key guy off the bench, but the only way you're going to get out of this is to play as hard as you can.' That's how you get back into it," Hornacek said. "I think guys kind of go through the motions sometimes. I think he fell a little bit back into his habit of last year -- just kind of floating around and not really running and making hard moves offensively."
Morris had no trouble responding. He's averaged 20.8 points in Phoenix's last four games (all at home), and the Suns went 3-1, with a 124-100 blowout victory over the league's top team, Indiana, on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
Morris put up 20 points against the Pacers (33-8).
Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.