Marreese Speights: Memphis Grizzlies Big Man Has Awoken

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 21, 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 finally woke up and started playing real ball for the Memphis Grizzlies again. He's started scoring, rebounding and shooting like he's supposed to. Maybe someone reminded Speights that he's in an expiring contract with 33 games left, only a handful of which he'll spend in the Grizzlies starting lineup.

Speights, who the Grizzlies acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in a three-team deal in early January, was expected to fill the rebounding and some of the inside scoring lost when Zach Randolph went down with a partial MCL tear on January 1. In two stretches, he has done that.

However, in one sustained period, Speights couldn't make his time on the floor count.

In his first eight games in the rotation, Speights was just what the Grizzlies asked him to do. He put up 9.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game. Five of those games saw him score in double figures and two saw him post double-doubles.

Speights shot just 44.7 percent from the field during that time. That figure fell below what one would expect from a power forward, but the Grizzlies could live with it since Speights didn't take many shots.

His next phase was abysmal. Lionel Hollins, as he is wont to do, changed the rotation up a bit, giving Dante Cunningham more minutes. In a 10-game stretch to follow, Speights averaged 17.4 minutes per game while Cunningham averaged 19.6 minutes per game.

Speights didn't fare well with the reduced minute load. His 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game during that time were very quiet. He only reached double figures in scoring once during that time and failed to gather more than six rebounds in a game.

Even worse, Speights' shooting suffered. His field-goal mark during that stretch was 32.2 percent, about as bad as anyone could shoot, no matter which position. That dropped his field-goal percentage for the season to 39.1 percent, the worst among power forwards.

With Randolph's knee progressing merrily, Speights was running out of time to show what he could do in meaningful time on the floor.

Fortunately, Speights broke out of his funk to give the Grizzlies a run of play they would hardly have expected at power forward from anyone other than Randolph.

Speights has put up 12.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in the last eight games. During this recent stretch, Speights has shot much better, submitting a 54 percent field-goal percentage.

In five of the last seven games, Speights has scored in double figures. He had double-doubles against the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets last week. Against the Nets, Speights gave the Grizzlies his biggest game of the season, posting 20 points and 18 rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting.

That's what teams like a power forward to shoot.

Also, this recent stretch has seen Speights more active on the floor than any previous stretch in a Grizzlies uniform. He's taken 10.3 field-goal attempts per game while playing 31.3 minutes per game.

Before the February 10 game against the Indiana Pacers, Speights had only played 30 minutes once for the Grizzlies. Also, he'd only taken 10 field-goal attempts in a game twice before then.

One can only wonder why.

Now, Speights is making his minutes count. He's pulling down rebounds at about the rate Randolph would when active. His shooting is a boost, rather than a detractor. Grizzlies fans don't have to cross their fingers when he puts up jump shots.

Speights must have recognized that his contract is quickly expiring. After the season, he becomes a restricted free agent. The Grizzlies would be able to match any offer for his services. Before his recent run, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace probably wouldn't have thought twice about it.

Now, Speights may be forcing him to consider how he might squeeze him onto the payroll and find a place for him on the roster.

Wallace would also have to consider how Speights would fit in the rotation with Darrell Arthur. Arthur, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon before the season, was the first big man off the bench last season. He served as a nice scoring punch, averaging 9.1 points in 20 minutes per game.

Arthur is longer and more athletic than Speights. He was a more versatile defender, able to guard the quicker frontcourt players. One would be interested to see how he looks as he recovers.

Still, Wallace has to see how Speights does in a reserve role once Randolph returns to the lineup. Randolph is used to playing more than 35 minutes per game. That would leave Speights playing only about 20 minutes per game.

Wallace would have to see whether Speights could play like he has recently off the bench.

Speights' previous performance while playing fewer minutes for the Grizzlies suggests otherwise. Nevertheless, Speights still has time to prove himself. Time is a precious commodity, and Speights must make the most of it in order to cash a significant paycheck in the coming seasons, whether for the Grizzlies or any other team.