Marreese Speights: What Happened to the Memphis Grizzlies Big Man?

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 7, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 18:  Marreese Speights #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots the ball over Jason Smith #14 of the New Orleans Hornets at New Orleans Arena on January 18, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Marreese Speights was supposed to be the answer for the Memphis Grizzlies after Zach Randolph went down with a partial MCL tear. The Grizzlies had acquired Speights from the Philadelphia 76ers in a three-team deal to fill the hole left when Randolph became injured. Now, with Speights playing poorly, Grizzlies fans may become anxious for Randolph's return.

Speights was set to be the player the Grizzlies could count on with Randolph out. He had scored well for the 76ers while hitting about 50 percent of his shots from the field. Also, he contributed a fair amount on the boards. The only drawback was that Speights showed up to 76ers practice out of shape after the lockout ended.

Speights started out quite well for the Grizzlies. In his first eight games in the Grizzlies rotation, Speights averaged 9.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. His 44.7 percent shooting wasn't good for a power forward, but it was workable.

Since then, Speights has fallen off considerably. In the last 10 games, he has averaged 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, which is a very quiet showing for any starter. His four points and two rebounds in the 89-84 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday demonstrated this.

Additionally, Speights has been dismal shooting the ball, posting a 32.2 percent from the field.

This unacceptable shooting clip of late has dropped Speights' season field-goal mark to 39.1 percent to go with seven points per game.

One must wonder why this is happening.

One can look at his diminished time on the floor. Those first eight games in the rotation saw Speights playing 24.9 minutes per game. The former Florida Gator played 17.4 minutes per game in the last 10 games. During that time, Dante Cunningham has averaged 19.6 minutes per game.

Lionel Hollins sometimes does this during certain parts of the season. He likes to use different players more during some stretches to give different looks. Last season, in a short stretch early in the second half of the season, Hollins gave Hamed Hadaddi a little more time in meaningful parts of the game while giving Darrell Arthur more rest.

With this move, the Grizzlies gained a little extra energy from Hadaddi on defense.

Hollins might be trying to see how the team responds with Cunningham receiving more minutes. He might want to see if the somewhat smaller, yet long Cunningham can give extra energy on the inside.

For the game on Thursday against the Atlanta Hawks, Cunningham played more to put more athletic defense on Josh Smith, according to The Commercial Appeal.

For Speights, this might not be working out. Like some players, Speights may not respond well to fewer minutes. While there's no correlation between the amount of minutes he plays and his field-goal percentage, one may wonder if he isn't responding to his shifting role.

Perhaps Speights is unhappy with his role. He might long for more minutes.

However, that would be a misbegotten thought. Speights will only start for a few more weeks before Randolph returns from injury. Randolph won't cede his starting role to Speights, barring another injury. Speights isn't nearly as good as Randolph and few would argue that he is in the same league as Randolph.

Another possibility is that Western Conference teams are catching on to Speights. Speights didn't have a problem scoring in the Eastern Conference for three seasons. His first eight games for the Grizzlies were good. Now, he's crashing to the ground.

Western Conference teams seem to be adjusting to him. The Grizzlies have played the New Orleans Hornets, Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder twice, each with Speights in the lineup. He scored 10 points the first time against the Thunder and Spurs and four points the second time around.

He scored 12 points the first time against the woeful Hornets and only four the second time.

Speights will need to regain his form soon. With only a few more weeks starting before Randolph returns, Speights, who becomes a restricted free agent after this season, is running out of time to prove himself to Grizzlies management.

After Randolph returns, he'll recede into the motley crew of backup frontcourt players. While sharing time with Cunningham, Hadaddi and Quincy Pondexter, Speights won't play enough to show his worth. A strong showing before Randolph's return is all he can do to show he deserves to stay in Memphis.