After being named the 6th man of the year in Conference USA last season, Wesley Witherspoon
appears to have turned the corner in 2010. With the departure of both Tyreke Evans
and John Calipari, Witherspoon has performed admirably for the 15-6 Tigers. A do-it-all-type that remains inconsistent as he continues to mature and gain experience, Witherspoon has shown more than enough versatility to garner NBA draft attention and is more valuable to Josh Pastners young team than his statistics suggest.
A key to Witherspoons ability to make an impact in multiple areas lies in his excellent physical profile for the college game. Standing 68 with long arms and possessing decent leaping ability, good quickness and nice fluidity, Witherspoons consistent energy allows him to maximize his body on both ends of the floor. A long strider who appears to be more smooth than explosive, the Georgia native needs to continue adding weight to make a smooth transition to the next level, as his skinny frame would be more problematic pitted against better athletes.
Last time we checked in on Witherspoon, he was coming off a season where he shot a meager 21.4% from beyond the arc and seemed to be having trouble shooting with ideal rhythm. A few months later, we find him ranked amongst the top shooters in the country in terms of 3-point percentage at a stellar 45%.
Taking 5-times as many threes as he did last season, Witherspoon clearly put a lot of work into his shot last summer and is benefitting from the open looks he receives while playing the power forward position. He no longer shoots on the way down, and has developed a level of comfort and repeatability in his form that makes him a tremendous threat in catch and shoot situations from beyond the arc.
Though he doesnt stick to his form quite as well when closely contested, Witherspoon displays a somewhat streaky pull up jumper that could be a tool for him down the road if he learns to maintain his balance and not lean as frequently. Considering how poorly he shot as a freshman, and the fact that hes taken only 50 attempts on the season in 21 games, it will be interesting to see how Witherspoon continues to shoot the ball down the stretch, as the improvement hes made is nothing short of remarkable.
When putting the ball on the floor, Witherspoon is outrageously predictable. Despite shooting with his right hand, he drives left almost exclusively. Capable of slashing with straight line drives to the rim, Witherspoon is able to exploit slower power forwards with his quickness, but isnt as successful against comparably gifted athletes. Not a terribly flashy ball handler or passer once on the move, Witherspoon continues to be a fairly turnover prone player.
If he cant get all the way to the rim with his initial drive, Witherspoon hasnt developed the advanced ball-handling moves to create separation and get to the basket, resulting in some questionable drives, passes, and short-range attempts into traffic. Similar observations can made about his play on the block, where he isnt as effective when he cant simply shot-fake and attack.
Defensively, Witherspoon is both productive statistically and effective within his role. Using his length to get in the passing lanes, block shots, and bother shooters when closing out, Witherspoon shows the ability to get down in a stance and move his feet when defending the perimeter. Though he isnt the quickest player laterally, his rangy frame and ability to anticipate make him a capable one-on-one defender.
While he certainly makes some impressive plays surprising shooters with his length at the rim, he still has quite a bit of room for improvement. Witherspoon is excessively foul prone on a per-minute basis, being very aggressive using his body when his man puts the ball on the floor. Additionally, he tends to ball-watch a bit too much, leaving huge cushions when the ball is skipped and failing to close his man out due to just how far hell commit to help his teammates. If he can shore up his help side rotations and add some bulk to his frame to help defend the post, Witherspoon could become a very high quality defensive player.
On the whole, Witherspoon is a very interesting player due to his size and versatility. With that said, hes been extremely inconsistent all season long. Some nights he gets to the line at will and is a major presence defensively, while in others he lacks focus and is nowhere to be found. As it stands, hes made some excellent strides in his game, but still has a lot of work to do to polish his skill set for the next level.
With the talent Memphis has coming in this summer, Witherspoon may be tempted to think about entering his name in the draft, as its unlikely he will play as big a role in Memphis offense with the likes of Joe Jackson
and Will Barton
in the fold. Regardless, an additional year in school could be extremely beneficial in the long-term, as he still has plenty of maturing to do both on and off the court and clearly isnt ready to play much of a role in the NBA. His situation is one to keep a close eye on, as his play late in the year will have a big impact on his perception headed into draft season.