JoJo Embiid: Son of Withey

  • I miss Jeff Withey.

    I don’t miss his offense, or lack there of. I miss his post defense. Withey represents the ultimate lesson for how to block shots.

    Withey murdered the concept that blocking shots was about jumping. Big leapers don’t make the best shot blockers. Tall guys with long arms and good timing seem to have more going for them. The key is to not leave your feet early. Offensive players quickly realize when they can get a defender to leave his feet early. They test the waters early in games with head and shoulder fakes, ball fakes, and anything else they can use to telegraph their shot. Getting a defender to take off too soon is the surest way to draw a foul on the defender. The whistle will not be protested by anyone, including the guilty player.

    So how does a post defender block a high number of shots if he hesitates to leave his feet early? By applying axis basketball to shot blocking, that’s how. Shooters are always at a disadvantage because the shot process requires some kind of form in order to be successful at dropping the ball in the hole, and form takes time to accomplish, valuable milliseconds that create an advantage to the defense. Shooters are always at a disadvantage because they have to leave their feet and commit before the shot. Once they’ve left the ground, they can’t return to it with the ball still in hand. So the shot blocker actually has several advantages going into the entire process of defending the rim.

    By applying Z-axis principles, a shot blocker must realize there are only a couple of potential paths for the ball to take to make a basket once the shooting player leaves his feet; he can take the path directly to the rim, or he can use the backboard. By knowing the two possible paths to the goal, a good shot blocker will position himself so he can make a block swipe that passes through both paths.

    So if most shot blockers know the paths the shooter is going to take, how can the shooter ever win and score? Good scorers can score on most defenders by controlling timing. By knowing how to draw the blocker in the air too soon, or by getting out so far ahead of the blocker that the blocker will trail the ball going by on the path. This method of scoring has become harder and harder to accomplish because the coaching of shot blockers continues to improve and that helps reduce the success of this method.

    There is one other method shooters use to score over or around blockers. Shooters have come to realize they can create shooting space where the blocker can’t reach now or sometimes ever to swat the ball. For example, shooters often use their body to shield the ball, and shooters know they have the whistle on their side and when body contact occurs, they have an opportunity to get fouled and still make the shot. There is a gray area involved with this strategy, and this is where shooters make mistakes and give opportunities for good shot blockers (like Withey) to counter their move by getting to the path space on time. Few shooters work on achieving a fail safe shot that pretty much can’t be blocked. An effective hook shot is the most obvious method of a fail safe shot (if performed properly). Most shooters won’t take the time to master a hook shot.

    I don’t think many people realize just how good Withey became at blocking shots. Withey was not a leaper. I believe his pro workout exposed his vertical to be something like 20-something inches. To most people who don’t understand axis basketball, that would make him a dud shot blocker. Withey benefited by not being able to jump! Yes, you heard me right! Since he couldn’t make up for other weaknesses by the jump, Withey had to rely solely on his skills to block shots. Those skills were based around first knowing the shot paths he was defending. Then he knew he had to have at least one hand in immediate proximity of those paths. That mostly required him to move his feet and keep his arms up where he only needed a quick response to extend into the path. The biggest skill Withey had related to timing. This part was all brain work. His brain analyzed shooters moves to the point where he could accurately estimate when and where they would leave their feet to attempt the shot. Once he mastered that, he only had to make sure he put a hand in close proximity of the possible paths. He became so good at it that he set blocking records without being a major leaper or even having good quick feet! Replay him on offense to see how he wasn’t a gazelle with his feet. And the best part was that Withey never had to leave his feet early… so he avoided foul trouble!

    Withey’s skills were so complete; he mastered the final part of blocking a shot and keeping the ball in bounds. His efforts were rarely for nought, because when he made a block it typically resolved into a possession win for our team.

    Jojo is a unique big man. He has gifted feet, and it is those nimble feet that have NBA scouts gushing to sign him. What he has other big men can not easily acquire. For as hard as Jeff worked on shot blocking, he can’t obtain feet like that with the same amount of work, or he would have done it. Jojo’s footwork gives him potential to do everything Withey did and much more, especially making him lethal on offense, an area Jeff always had trouble in.

    I don’t know what JoJo’s vertical is, but I venture to say it must far exceed what Jeff could do. If he can grasp what it takes to become a successful shot blocker, his vertical can help him, but if he uses his jumping as a crutch to avoid learning the science behind shot blocking, he’ll never become the shot blocker Jeff was. And as I mentioned earlier, leaping is not at the heart of shot blocking anyways. What gives JoJo a clear advantage is his ability to use his feet to close the distance to the pathways without fouling. He should quickly become better than Jeff at this.

    Will JoJo ever develop to become a great shot blocker? I hope so, but I don’t know so. I’m sure he will eventually master the mechanics of shot blocking, which should at least make him a respectable blocker, but will he ever surpass Jeff? He’ll have to master the intangible process of knowing when and where the paths are that shooters take, and that gets into the area of intuition and how the mind works… and Jeff may be the best to ever play the game in that area, because he sure didn’t earn all those shot blocking records with his footwork and leaping ability!

    Fortunate for JoJo… he has access to a video library stuffed with Withey stuffs!

  • Such a great post.

    If only JoJo could grow his blocking skill to be where Withey was at the start of his senior year…

  • Like HEM so aptly pinpointed on another thread, Embid needs to be on the floor as much as possible & the earlier, like now (or yesterday), the better. IMO many of us believe he can possibly be the absolute ace in the hole for a National Championship in April. When he gets the instinctive vertical position move down pat & not leave his feet, with that reach it’ll be the ultimate Yogi, “Dejavu all over again” moment for the faithful followers of the game KU made famous. But in all fairness to Jeff’s years of tremendous work ethic & perseverance, Jo Jo will be hard pressed to accomplish the stature of Withey’s historic, giant presence in a matter of months. Surely if we bag the NC, there’ll be another mass Exodus in the aftermath that could include 3 or 4 starters, he included. Without the NC I think there’s a 50-50 shot he comes back as well as most others. Good guggamugga slayr, it’s gonna’ be an unquestionably special year!

  • I’m actually in the camp that believes Embiid should be brought along more slowly. Sports are generally about repetition and muscle memory. Unfortunately for Embiid, he’s only gotten about 2 years worth of reps and muscle memory in. Most players have 5 or 6 times that by the time they reach college. Embiid needs reps.

    Embiid is an amazing athlete, maybe the best overall athlete on this team, or at the very least the most unique. You just don’t find 7 footers that agile. But he needs to learn the game, especially on the defensive end.

    He doesn’t always get to the right place on defensive rotations. Rotations are the hardest thing to learn because you don’t get to think about where you are supposed to be. If you think about it, you’re already a step and a half late. The thing is, Embiid doesn’t yet have the reps to get to those spots automatically, yet. He’s agile enough to cover for it at times, though. However, if you watch him closely, his defensive positioning is still not correct about a third of the time. This is especially true on double teams, where at times he will go too far when the ball handler retreats, leaving a wider passing lane. He also needs work on ball screens (he’s better on those than he is on double teams) and when he is rotating as a help defender off the ball. These aren’t huge tragedies, but these are things that need to be worked on in practice so that he isn’t thinking about it on the court. He needs the reps and the only way to get multiple reps in specific situations is to run through it in practice (as I am sure he has done multiple times).

  • Justanother, I’m am now and will always believe that Bill Self will always be right about basketball decisions. No really, what he told us about Mason 4 months ago has been shown to be true. Development of talent is his claim to fame and is always spouted by those pundits who are knowledge about the game. JoJo will be gone soon enough and in forging steel, the fire has to be hot, or some other pity phrase. Also, he has stated that he always wants the 5 best on the floor. Tuesday night with 4 guards and Ellis, that was the best rotation for that last 3 minutes. He amazes me more that the skill of his players.

  • Definitely looks rough on D. On the offensive end, Embiid set some darn good, well-planted, high screens against Duke, so he seems to have that figured out. He also had great position catching the ball a couple times down low, and just didn’t take the shot, panicked and dribbled out to the corner (or passed out for an assist!).

    I think we’ll see him out there as much as Self can handle it.

  • JoJo will get lots of floor time because Black and Traylor usually seem to forget the game is basketball, not football. I like all these guys… but the facts are the facts.

    Hey, Traylor really sparked us on Tuesday! He is definitely showing progress from last year!

  • BTW, Withey’s jump was measured at 26.5" no step vertical and 29" max vertical.

  • slayr … great stuff. Schulman said Tuesday after a Duke drive and score that it wasn’t quite as easy to play defense when Withey wasn’t there to guard the rim. Very true. I was about to say that I didn’t think that Embiid would ever be the shot-blocker Withey was, then I remembered that Embiid was a freshman. When Withey was a freshman, he was plotting his Arizona exit to the greener pastures of Lawrence … and looked like a lost soul once he did get on the court.

    You mentioned Withey not leaving his feet early. That’s really the key to the great (tall) shot blockers. Just stand there. Wait.

    It’s like a linebacker pursuing laterally. Stay a step behind the running back. You’ll still make the play. You just won’t permit the cutback. Same here. You avoid the foul, may not get the block, but it’s a more reliable formula.

    Excellent read. Thanks for posting. Now needs to get someone like you to contribute a few times per week …

  • I remember Withey’s early games as a Jayhawk. JoJo reminds me of an early Withey; tall and thin and trailing the ball to the rim and rarely catching up to it!

    Unfortunately, I doubt we have JoJo’s services long enough to see him blossom to the talents Withey grew in to… but who knows?

  • What is in Embiid’s favor:

    1. He clearly is athletic.

    2. He definitely saw Withey play, and KU position coaches will show him the Withey Blocks 4-DVD set for film study of footwork, verticality, jump/no-jump, etc…

    3. We saw raw, natural blocking ability in the Jordan Classic game, where he had several blocks on Julius Randle, among others. That can only get better as his court awareness and confidence grows.

    4. He even has a swagger about the blocks, emulating past African greats such as Olajuwon and Mutumbo with the “no-no” finger wagging–> if he’s going to have fun like that, he’s gotta back it up with legit, big-time blocks.

    5. The kid is only 18 and is 7ft, 250 lbs…In 2-3yrs he could be a real BIG monster that is 270 lbs, with the absolute total pkg of jump shots, post moves, blocks, and just sheer physical size to wall people off.

    6. He has the work ethic to succeed in all of the above.

    7. He IS at THE PROGRAM to develop big men as maximally as is possible in college.

    8. He IS at THE PROGRAM that “features” its bigmen as a cornerstone of the entire offense (in the half-court sets). He will benefit from the # of touches, and the expectations that come with it. Something Tarik Black is busy realizing and learning right now.

  • I know everyone here thinks Embiid needs to see more minutes. I agree but I also agree that Self had Black come to KU for a reason. What would the rest of the team think of Self if he benched Black? All of these transfer worries everyone keeps pondering would probably start to happen. I think if Embiid stays for another year that would be good but if not Hunter did set a shot blocking record for most blocks from a freshman in a year. Recruiting is not over and with the ammount of tallent that will come in next year and the returning players I am sure Self can mannage to win another couple of games. He is pretty consistant dont ya know?

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