Memphis Grizzlies power forward Marreese Speights would be the first to tell you that coming to the Bluff City wasn’t by accident.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Speights said. “God gave me an opportunity to come to a new team, a new opportunity. Sometimes it works out good and sometimes it works out bad.”
Fortunately for the 24-year-old Speights, things are holding up befittingly for the third-year pro out of Florida.
Signed by the Grizzlies on Jan. 4, three days after Zach Randolph suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament to his right knee, Speights essentially has salvaged his career after struggling to find his niche in three-plus seasons with Philadelphia.
The 6-foot-10, 255-pounder has emerged as another viable scoring option for a Memphis team that clinched its second consecutive playoff berth Wednesday night against New Orleans. Heading into Saturday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers at FedExForum, Speights is expected to make his 52ndstart for the Grizzlies, although Randolph returned March 16 from what the team feared was a season-ending injury.
Speights is averaging 8.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, shooting 45 percent from the field, making 79 percent of his free throws, and averaging 22.2 minutes per contest for the Grizzlies. Arguably his best game with the team came in a double-overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, when he erupted for a team-best 25 points and seven rebounds in 49 minutes.
Speights has scored in double figures in 23 games this season, including five consecutive outings in February, a stretch that included the Grizzlies winning four of those five games.
His versatility, by and large, has proven beneficial for Memphis, a team many believe is a dark horse to reach the NBA Finals.
“He’s been huge for us,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said of Speights. “He’s really stepped it up. He brings scoring, rebounding and he brings something to the team that we didn’t have when Zach went down. And that is, he can play a little bit of the four and five.”
While Hollins admittedly didn’t know anything about Speights before the trade, Randolph said the Grizzlies’ landing a player of Speights’ caliber has not only taken some pressure off him as one the team’s formidable big men, but it has made Memphis a more bulky team as it prepares for the postseason.
“Man, that young fella has great,” Randolph said of Speights. “He’s been holding it down and doing everything he’s supposed to do. He’s having a career season.”
Something that seemed highly unlikely during Speights’ brief stint with the 76ers.
Philadelphia drafted Speights with the 16thoverall pick in 2008 following two seasons at Florida in which he played mostly in the shadows of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Chris Richard. Unfortunately for the St. Petersburg, Fla. native, he struggled to adjust to 76ers coach Doug Collins’ system.
While in Philly, he appeared in 205 games, making only four starts and averaging 7.2 points per game. However, he managed just 14.3 minutes of action, virtually half of the minutes he has generated since being acquired by Memphis.
Although he was a high draft pick who played sparingly for the 76ers, Grizzlies assistant coach Henry Bibby has always been fond of Speights’ game, particularly when was an assistant to Maurice Cheeks in Philadelphia from 2006-2008.
After Randolph’s injury forced to the Grizzlies to act swiftly in bringing in a big man, Bibby convinced management to take a strong look at Speights, whose height, weight, and skills, by and large, mirror that of Randolph’s.
The early-season trade, it turned out, has benefited the Grizzlies and Speights.
“When I got traded, people didn’t hear a lot about me,” said Randolph, whose 10-year NBA career includes stints with Portland, New York, and the Los Angeles Clippers. “But look at me now. Guys get traded all the time and get better. And it’s all about getting better.”
For Speights, however, joining the Grizzlies also was a golden opportunity to regroup, something he insist he’s had the luxury of accomplishing in his brief time with the team.
“I’ve just got to keep listening to coach (Hollins) and learning the game and getting better with every game,” Speights said. “This is a good team. We’re a great big family.”
A family that, according to Speights, he’s delighted to be apart of.
Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.