Grizzlies traded Xavier Henry (the #12 pick in the 2009 draft) and a future 2nd round pick for Mareesse Speights on Wednesday.
At first glance it seems like a decent trade. Xavier Henry was never able to remain healthy enough to get any serious playing time and with O J Mayo taken off the trading block it didn’t look like he would be able to earn any playing time this year either. 2nd round picks usually aren’t that impressive either – Sam Young notwithstanding.
But first glances rarely tell the whole story.
When you dig a little deeper this trade may seem to be born more from desperation than intelligence and not just because the Grizzlies have lost Zach Randolph for the next 6-8 weeks of the season. This could be desperation born from pressure from the owner to win now and the reality that Dante Cunningham isn’t the long-term answer at PF, even as the primary backup.
Marreese Speights hasn’t played a minute this season despite Philadelphia being weak up front and he is not injured (or troubled with visa issues for that matter). Speights didn’t play because their coach didn’t want him on the court. So why would he not want a player on the court who last season put up stats that translated into 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per 40 minutes of court time?
Therein lies the question.
According to Philadunkia blogger Carey Smith, Speights struggled with Collins’ defensive structure in Philly, was reputed to be rather selfish with the basketball, repeatedly out of shape and was rumored to be disinterested in changing his reputation. Well at least that’s what I got between his laughing uncontrollably upon hearing the news that Speights had been traded.
He didn’t have a great opinion of Speights as a player.
Speights has always been a good shooter of the ball, but the NBA isn’t solely about offensive ability. Despite hitting 50.2% of his field goal attempts, and a respectful 41% from 10-23 feet, the 76ers couldn’t leave him on the court for long stretches because of his defensive liabilities. Ignore the Synergy stats that claim Speights to be an average defender. As John Hollinger wrote he fails the eye test. He is slow to rotate, rarely steals or blocks shots and is terrible at drawing charges (although he does flop a lot in attempting to draw them).
Now, my first thought when reading this scouting report was that it reminded me of the type of things written about Zach Randolph when the Grizzlies traded for him. Selfish player, only concerned with offense, terrible defender, a black hole on offense. It really doesn’t sound like a great deal, but if he can mature and develop his game the way Z-Bo did, then the Grizzlies may have found the proverbial Diamond in the Rough that Chris Wallace talks about all the time.
What are the chances the Grizzlies find gold twice? Chris Wallace is a great basketball mind but with no scouting department how much does he really know about Speights today? Are we to believe the offensive banger we saw in the charity games this season or the people who have watched him in practice this year (remember he hasn’t played in any games this season) and in games over the last few years?
The reality is Speights is a decent offensive player but a poor defender and by poor I mean terrible. Can he improve? Yes, and Lionel Hollins is likely to be the right type of coach to help him improve, but how much can he improve this season? Rumors around Philly are that he is terribly out of shape as well so it isn’t likely he will step in right away and log even 25 minutes much less the 35-40 Z-Bo put in every night. He doesn’t pound the glass on offensive end like Z-Bo does, but really who does anyway? The problem is he doesn’t pound the defensive boards like Z-Bo does either and that standard is much easier to reach.
If Hollins can reach Speights, and there is no guarantee that Speights even understands there is a problem, then by next season the Grizzlies will have a big, strong PF/C behind Z-Bo and Gasol who could make this team really terrifying down low. This season, a shortened season with very little practice time compared to a normal season, it is highly doubtful that Speights will be able to learn the sets and get in shape before Z-Bo gets back in two months.
Maybe I am being too critical but for some reason I believe this move was made to appease the owner who isn’t prepared to face the fact that the team he built on paper is not the team he has on the court anymore. It may not be a problem the way the team has bound together after Z-Bo’s injury but it sure would be nice if I had to write an apology to Speights in a couple of months and not an “I told you so” blog.