Monday, February 28, 2011
Posted: 6:16 p.m.
By John R. Finger
A quick look at the game log for Marreese Speights reveals a story to be told. Between the dwindling minutes and the handful of DNP-CD (did not play-coachs decision) in the box score, and a new coach in the mix, something was going on with Speights that was not revealing itself in black and white.
In fact, there was an eight-game stretch just before the All-Star break where Speights never got more than five minutes of action in a game and sat on the bench in three others. For a first-round pick in the 2008 draft and a three-year vet who probably could have used the extra two seasons at Florida he gave up, Speights seems to have all the makings of a draft bust.
But thats the easy, knee-jerk answer. After two seasons where he averaged 17.3 and 18.9 points per 36 minutes for three different coaches, Speights, 23, could be settling into a different role under Doug Collins.
Mo is big for us, Collins said following Monday mornings practice at the Philadelphia College for Osteopathic Medicine. When he plays well he makes us a different team. Ive been pleased with Mo. The last few games hes come in and played very, very well. Yesterday against Cleveland he didnt play great, but he came in and gave us a lift the first time through. The thing I love about Mo is that he wants to play well and he wants to be a part of whats going on.
At 6-foot-10, Speights is a natural scorer with a decent mid-range jumper. But the difference between playing for Collins on a club making a run at a decent seed in the playoffs is defense matters. This isnt to say it didnt matter when Speights played for coaches Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo and Eddie Jordan, but with Collins at the helm, the Sixers think defense first.
After all, defense wins in the modern NBA.
More notably, with the streaking Dallas Mavericks coming into the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, Collins and frontcourt teammates like Elton Brand will lean on Speights for some relief.
Hes really been working hard even though hes out of the rotation. Hes coming back into the rotation and were going to need him for the rest of the season and into the playoffs because hes going to be a big factor for where we can go, Brand explained. When he can give us some solid minutes were a much, much better team. He knows how important he is to us.
Of course, Speights offense wont be the issue as the Sixers head down the stretch. His defense, however, will be what determines his minutes.
The big thing with him is defensive concepts. We are a good defensive team, but thats because we play very good team defense, Collins said. When he has the team defensive concepts down and hes rebounding then he becomes a guy I can trust. We know he can score he scores so easily. But when he does that, I have four bigs and they all can play and they all can score.
With Brand in the frontcourt, Collins goes with center Spencer Hawes as well as 6-foot-8 forward Thaddeus Young and 6-10 centerforward Darius Songaila off the bench. The teams regular rotation also features Lou Williams and rookie Evan Turner off the bench getting regular minutes.
Speights was once part of that rotation, too, averaging more than 16 minutes per game in his first two seasons with the club. However, this season Speights averages less than 12 minutes per game with 11 DNPs. The interesting part about that is the Sixers bench unit leads the NBA in scoring and is a big reason why the team is in the midst of a huge turnaround this season.
Still, if the Sixers are going to make a run up the standings before the playoffs arrive, Speights is going to have to be a contributor.
After every practice hes over there with assistant coach Michael Curry on the exercise bike, or hes shooting or working extra hard on everything hes doing, Collins said. I dont think people realize this, but whenever we go to a city, they go find a college and go to a college game. The other night our guys got a car and all went to watch Kent State play Ohio. It was some of our coaches and four or five of our players. That tells you a lot about our guys they like basketball and Mo is one of those guys.
Speights got a little less than 10 minutes against the Cavaliers on Sunday night, but played for nearly twice that in the blowout wins over the Wizards and Pistons. When the game is close, Speights minutes tend to shrink. Thats the trend that might have to change come April.
We keep him working and we stay positive with him, Collins said. Hes the kind of guy that when you get him in the gym hell work all day. Hell stay and do extra work because he loves to play. The big thing with him is were trying to get him to absorb all the concepts defensively that we do because that is so important to our team.
Related: Sixers hold off Cavs Buy Sixers gear
E-mail John Finger at email@example.com