In a three-team deal consummated today, the Memphis Grizzlies have agreed to move unused lottery pick Xavier Henry to New Orleans, receiving unused near-lottery pick Marreese Speights from Philadelphia in return, with both teams giving a second round pick to the Sixers for their troubles.
[...] However, with the simultaneous announcement that Randolph is set to miss two months with tendon damage, the need for frontcourt reinforcement is urgent if Memphis are to be able to tread water until he returns. And … it appears that Marreese Speights is that help.
Speights’ best offensive skill, his consistent two-point jump shot, instantly helps the Grizzlies’ poorly spaced offense, and somewhat offsets the loss of Randolph’s own fine jumper. Yet Speights is only going to help with Memphis’s frontcourt defense if he opts to play any. And this, frankly, has never been the case.
After a promising rookie campaign in which he demonstrated a mix of athleticism and scoring potency that is permanently hard to find in a 6-foot-10 player, Speights’ output has gone down consistently, coincident with his minutes, because his style of play is just too ill-disciplined. Philadelphia’s frustration with Speights’ shot-jacking, devil-may-care, defensively-listless and rebound-shy style of play has seen him go from being a highly promising young talent, to a man who has been DNP-CD’d for every single minute of the short season thus far. In spite of his athletic talents (and the potential that such athleticism defaults him), Speights has not improved, or begun to do the things that would see him come off the bench ahead of the remnants of Tony Battie. The Sixers, it seems, have given up trying to convince him.
Memphis have now traded their last four first round draft picks (Henry, Greivis Vasquez, Hasheem Thabeet and DeMarre Carroll), and tried their best to make it five with the multiple abortive attempts to trade O.J. Mayo to Indiana. Unable to compete on the free agent market, Memphis has had to build through the draft, and when that hasn’t worked out — perhaps due to letting go of most of their scouts — they have had to rely largely on reclamation projects. Indeed, ever since his Boston days and the forgettable Kedrick Brown saga, Chris Wallace has placed a high value on “athleticism,” perhaps using it as a synonym for “potential.” Speights fits all of those bills, and the trade is neither a bad strategy in general, nor a poor move in isolation. It also sees them acquire the services of a player who has proven he can contribute on an NBA court, for the cost only of a man who hasn’t. That can never be too bad.
It doesn’t, however, reassure us of anything. Randolph’s loss is immeasurably more impactful in the short term than that of any potential replacement, and with his contract expiring this summer, Speights’ long-term contributions to the team might not be too long-term either. Speights will now be given the opportunity to prove himself, to get plenty of playing time, to be in the rotation of a good team, and to realize the potential that he genuinely does have.
But he’s had that opportunity before, and didn’t take it. If he doesn’t this time, Memphis look headed for the lottery again.