Through some fortuitous circumstances and crafty maneuvering the Trail Blazers recently acquired Thomas Robinson from the Houston Rockets, just five days after drafting Jeff Withey in the 2nd round of the NBA draft. Though Robinson and Withey are independently talented as well, the Blazers have stumbled (intentionally or not) into a “better together” situation.
The two big men are former teammates and spent three years together holding down the frontcourt fort for the Kansas Jayhawks (topping the Big 12 rankings all three years). Success came gradually for them, as they fought for playing time behind Cole Aldrich and the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), but as their predecessors left for greener pastures it became clear that Robinson and Withey were something special.
By their junior year (and Robinson’s last before entering the 2012 NBA draft) Robinson was averaging a double-double and Withey was swatting anything that even thought about reaching the rim. They completely understood each other’s game and experienced major success in the NCAA tournament before losing to Anthony Davis and the Kentucky Wild Cats in the championship.
Fast forward one year. Robinson has bounced around the NBA like an flubber-coated pinball due to roster crowding and cap clearing, while Withey blocked and rebounded his way to a 2nd round selection. Through the masterful movements of Blazers GM, Neil Olshey, their paths will intersect again; this time at the professional level.
The Blazers never contacted Withey prior to the draft, so perhaps the optimistic and more attentive foresaw the Robinson trade in advance when they selected Withey with the 39th pick. Whether you expected it, hoped for it, or were simply blind-sided by it, the transaction has brought a pre-existing dynamic of success to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Robinson (6’9”, 240 lbs) is an ever-aggressive forward with an amazing motor; Withey (7’0”, 235 lbs) is a towering inside force built to block shots. Both are considered above average interior defenders with potential to become great. They are 22 and 23, respectively, and have the opportunity to develop in the NBA together with Portland as the prime beneficiary.
But we won’t have to wait long to see them contribute together. Because LaMarcus Aldridge will start over Robinson while Withey scraps behind Meyers Leonard (and maybe a newly signed free agent if all goes well) they will often be part of the same rotation. You probably want to forget how disjointed the blazer bench seemed last season, but the Robinson/Withey combo brings in ready-made fluidity for 2013-2014.
Never underestimate the power of knowing your teammates. It’s no coincidence that teams try to acquire brothers in sets (Marcus/Markieff Morris: Phoenix Suns, Jrue/Justin Holiday: Philadelphia 76ers, Tyler/Ben Hansbrough: Indiana Pacers); having an established sense of the players around you is a cohesive catalyst. It would appear that the Blazers are hoping to capitalize on the ‘Kansas Connection’ in order to grease the wheels of their clunky bench lineup.
Las Vegas Summer League begins on July 12th and, if both former Jayhawks participate, it should be a fantastic way to gage what to expect from them as Blazers. Last year we saw Damian Lillard light Sin City on fire before torching opponents in the regular season. Hopefully we will see what the Robinson/Withey duo is capable of, leading up to their official Blazer debut.
Things to consider:
- Thomas Robinson was in the running to be selected 1st overall in 2012, and was taken at #5, one spot ahead of teammate Damian Lillard.
- Jeff Withey played four years of college ball and is NBA ready. He averaged 3.9 blocks per game his senior year.
- The Kansas Jayhawks finished the 2012 season at 16-2 when Robinson and Withey were starters together.
- Neither have a history of injury.
- They will only cost Portland a combined total of $4 million in the 2013-2014 season.
- Neil Olshey possesses a magic lamp that contains basketball wisdom instead of Robin Williams.