Meet the New Griz: Marreese Speights (and Quincy Pondexter)



Marreese Speights
  • Marreese Speights

The Grizzlies finally found the “fourth big man” they've been looking for since the lockout ended, trading oft-injured swingman Xavier Henry and — in all probability — a second-round pick in next year's draft in a three-team deal to obtain Sixers' big Marreese Speights.

Speights joined the team last night — at least according to Tony Allen's Twitter feed — and should be in uniform soon pending physicals for both players involved in the deal.

Of course, by the now the Grizzlies have lost both Zach Randolph (for 6-8 weeks if all goes well) and Darrell Arthur (for the season), so the need Speights will be asked to fill is even more pronounced.

At 6'10” and — at last count — 255 pounds, Speights has the size to log time at center and the shooting range to play with Marc Gasol at power forward. The book on Speights has been that he's a decent rebounder (with rates in the normal range for rotation-level big men) and very good mid-range shooter (over 40% on long twos in all three NBA seasons). On the downside, he's been a disinterested defender, puts up shots even more frequently than his skills suggest is wise, and there have been questions about his conditioning. In Philadelphia, he quickly fell out of favor with new coach Doug Collins, logging only 11.5 minutes a game last season and not getting on the floor at all this season. (Speights played in Rudy Gay's Memphis charity game during the lockout, and looked fine, but there's only so much you can tell in that kind of setting.)

Here is Basketball Prospectus' profile on Speights in their '11-'12 book (which you can and should purchase here):

Marreese Speights could headline an episode of Bizarre Spellings, but it would be more apt if he had a nick- name like Empty Production. Speights averaged 18.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, numbers right in line with what he did his first two years in the league. Yet his minutes were cut to a miniscule 11.5 minutes per game and as training camps opened, the Sixers were reported to be in sell-off mode with the temperamental former Gator. Speights is a good midrange shooter but takes too many jumpers at the expense of his solid ability to get to the basket. That costs him the much-needed free-throw attempts that would raise his efficiency over league average. Speights is a high-volume scorer who puts up shots in bunches. He doesn’t do much to raise the level of his teammates. Speights posted some terrific metrics on the defensive end last season, though our system isn’t buying in just yet. At this point, we’ll just say that he seemed to be better. However, that may have been a function of playing a lot of his minutes in garbage time. Given his scoring ability, if Speights really was playing shutdown defense, Doug Collins would have used him for more than 11 minutes per game. Speights has the ability to help a club if makes the conscious decision to learn what a team player actually is, which is not a guy that launches a long two before he’s barely had a chance to remove his sweats.

So, Speights isn't a sure thing. But he has size, ability, and fills a massive need for the Grizzlies. This was a deal the team had to make, and by adding a presumptive rotation-quality big man without having to part with O.J. Mayo, it makes it far more likely the team can hold onto its best bench player and best outside shooter for the rest of the season.

Given Randolph's absence and the team's relative dearth of frontcourt options even after this deal, you might assume Speights will end up starting at power forward. Perhaps he will, but I'm not so sure that would be the best way to use him, for a few reasons:

1. Speights' shot-happy proclivities are more useful when he isn't on the floor with multiple better scorers, so synching his floor time with other bench players might help lessen the scoring drop when key starters are out.

2. Unless the Grizzlies suddenly become comfortable using Josh Davis and/or Hamed Haddadi for 15 minutes every night, the team is probably going to want Speights to soak up a lot of the back-up center minutes. Gasol can't sustain the 38 minutes he's averaged in the two games since Randolph went out, and it would probably be easier to apportion Speights' minutes to cover most of Gasol's rest if he comes off the bench.

3. If Speights' conditioning ends up being an issue, he might be better in shorter stints.

But regardless of how the team chooses to use him, and maybe even regardless of his conditioning or defensive interest, the Grizzlies are so desperate for frontcourt help that Speights should make them a better team. And if the Grizzlies can tap into his latent talent and get the best out of him, it could be a steal.

There's risk here in trading away Henry, whose youth, size, rookie contract, and high school/college profile all add up to an interesting prospect. Even with the doubts he's created in his first year-plus, Henry was still probably a better bet to be this team's starting scoring guard two seasons from now than anyone else on the current roster. And with the need to fill out the roster on the cheap in coming seasons, the team will miss that second-rounder in what's expected to be a deep draft. But the Grizzlies are in win-now mode. The opportunity to trade a player outside the rotation for one who will step into a major role couldn't be passed up.

Quincy Pondexter
  • Quincy Pondexter
Quincy Pondexter: If I'm a day or so late writing up Speights, I'm a lot later on Pondexter, a consequence of his being acquired on Christmas Eve afternoon.

My initial reaction to the Pondexter deal was puzzlement. I was surprised that the Grizzlies gave up an asset (Grevis Vasquez) without addressing their most glaring need (size). I also like Vasquez as a pure talent a little more than Pondexter — big point guards with excellent court vision and passing ability are harder to find than wing players without extraordinary athleticism or shooting ability. Finally, I thought the Grizzlies were making a calculated gamble on two point guard options — Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby — neither of which had played an NBA game at that point.

But the indicators were all good on Pargo — his translated European stats, his preseason performances, his play in team practices — and his play early, particularly in two of the three games without Mike Conley, has made good on the team's faith. Further, Selby has shown better promise at point guard than I think even the team expected.

And I assumed the Pondexter deal would be — would have to be — followed by another deal sending out a wing player for a big man, thus bringing more balance to the roster. That happened with Henry-Speights.

I had liked Pondexter as a draft prospect, lauding his pre-draft workout with the Grizzlies and pegging him — along with Vasquez — as one of five players I thought the team should consider later in the 2010 draft.

And, through six games with the Grizzlies, Pondexter has looked more like the player I expected than he did during his rookie season with the Hornets. He's averaged 16 minutes a game for the Grizzlies, playing the 2, 3, and 4 and shooting 54% from the floor — though the promising three-point stroke he flashed his rookie year has yet to show up.

Pondexter's shooting percentage inside the arc has jumped from 42% last season to 64% so far on this season. That number will come down, but he definitely has the ability to improve on his rookie-year mid-range shooting. I'm more skeptical about him duplicating the 36% three-point shooting from last season. (Vasquez, incidentally, has gone the other way so far, his poor early shooting dragging down his terrific assist rate.)

So far, Pondexter seems to be competing with incumbent Sam Young for a role and minutes in the team's rotation. At 6'6”, 225 pounds and without dynamic ball skills, Pondexter is probably best suited for the three and when you give him a cursory look on the floor you'll think he's a better fit at that position than Young. But, on closer inspection, Young is only slightly smaller, is a more dynamic athlete around the basket, and, based on actual NBA production thus far, is at least as good on the boards.

The area where Pondexter theoretically bests Young is as a shooter, where he seems to have a more reliable stroke and better range. Where these players eventually settle in the team's pecking order seems very fluid, but given that Pondexter has more years left on his very affordable contract, the Grizzlies would be well served in finding a good role for him.

Here's Basketball Prospectus (again, order here) on Pondexter:

The Hornets’ lone rookie was in and out of the rotation all season, backing up Trevor Ariza when he did see regular action. Like Ariza, Quincy Pondexter had a tough time scoring efficiently in New Orleans’ slow- paced offense. He spent most of the time spotting up, which is not an ideal use of his skills but is probably the way Pondexter will have to play to stick in the NBA because he’s not talented enough to justify isolation opportunities.

Pondexter did adapt better to the longer three-point line than anticipated, which provided SCHOENE reason to believe he will improve quickly next season. The less optimistic perspective is that Pondexter’s accuracy was a small-sample fluke. After all, according to he made just 29.0 percent of his long two-pointers. Pondexter has the tools to make a larger impact at the defensive end of the floor. He gives up height to many small forwards, but not strength, and has the athleticism to force opponents to shoot contested jumpers.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment