Marreese Speights: Part of the Problem or Solution?

Based purely on numbers, one may think Marreese Speights has had a successful three games since being traded to the Grizzlies a little less than week ago. Delve a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that while he’s putting up solid numbers, the Grizzlies need Speights to fill a different role.

Is Marreese Speights the right solution to the Grizzlies' frontcourt depth issues?

Through three games, he is averaging nine points and just shy of three rebounds per game while playing about 18 minutes per night. It’s not the amount of points Speights is scoring; it’s how he is scoring them. He has shown himself to be more comfortable playing away from the basket and taking jump shots instead of bruising down low.

The 24-year-old, who was the 16th overall pick out of Florida in the 2007 NBA Draft, seems hesitant to put his 6-foot-10, 255 lbs frame to work in the way the Grizzlies need him. With Zach Randolph out for the foreseeable future, Memphis needs Speights to play with his back to the basket and be on the inside battling for rebounds—leave the outside jumpers to the guards.

Against the Lakers last Sunday – the first night he saw extended minutes – Speights touched the ball 22 times. He shot 19 times and had two turnovers. What does that mean? He passed the ball ONCE. I wrote a story earlier this year about Rudy Gay being a ball-stopper and struggling to fit into the Memphis offense. Even on his worst nights, Gay doesn’t dominate the ball like Speights did against L.A.

Speights has been a classic underperformer in the league and saw his minutes decrease each year. Before being traded to Memphis, Speights had yet to see the floor in four games for a successful Philadelpha 76ers team, and it has been reported that he came into camp this year out of shape.

Memphis desperately needs Speights to transform himself into an energetic and physical player on the floor to complement Marc Gasol on the block. Gasol is one of the toughest players in the league, but it’s hard for him to battle alone down low. The lack of another physical big man could be seen last night against Oklahoma City as the Thunder – often playing small and with only one big man – outrebounded Memphis 51-39.

I don’t know Speights, and I’ve only seen him play in person once, so it’s too soon to make any judgments. However, his reputation before last week’s trade was that he was a lazy big man who preferred to jack up shots instead of battling down low. So far, he hasn’t done much at all to disprove that theory.

Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

– Photo by Justin Ford

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