Marreese Speights has the physical tools to be a star in this league. Offensive skills like his are rarely seen in rookies. Under Mo Cheeks' guidance through the first 23 games Mo Cheeks had him motivated, and it looked like it was only a matter of time until he took over the starting center spot from Samuel Dalembert. Then Mo got fired and something happened to Speights' game. He wasn't hustling, he wasn't rebounding, he seemed to only care about getting his points when he got on the floor.
While extremely disconcerting, the drop-off in production isn't what we're going to talk about today. We're going to talk about how it was handled and how he responded.
Under Mo Cheeks, Speights averaged 13 minutes/game, 3.67 rebounds. That translates into 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. Excellent production from a rookie, and it was those numbers that made you believe Sammy would be expendable before long.
Then, when Tony DiLeo took over, Speights tanked the next 7 games. Over that stretch, under his new coach, Speights averaged 19 minutes/game, but only 3.25 boards. That translates into 6.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. Rebounding at that rate is completely unacceptable for any big man in the league. Over the final two games of that stretch (@Utah and @LAC) Speights played a total of 26 minutes and grabbed one rebound. The next game after the Clippers was in Dallas, against the Mavs.
DiLeo sat Speights for the entire game against the Mavs. When asked why, he said there just wasn't an opportunity to put him in. I don't buy that logic one bit. Theo and Evans combined for 35 minutes in that game, DiLeo gave Speights' minutes directly to Ratliff, and he did it to send a message. While he made an excuse publicly, I would bet good money that privately the message was clear to Speights. "I don't care how well you shoot, if you don't work out there, you will not play." It was the right message to send, and it was the proper way to send the message.
You don't call out your young players in the press, it doesn't accomplish anything (are you listening Don Nelson?) You talk to your guys, you let them know what's expected and you let them know what's at stake. If you don't rebound, you won't play. Simple.
In the five games since DiLeo benched Speights he's averaged 19 minutes/game, 6 rebounds. That translates into 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. He's also shooting 59% from the floor over the past five and averaging 20.7 points per 36 minutes.
The headline of this post is applicable to both Speights and Coach DiLeo. While the coach handled it in a professional manner, it was still a decision for Marreese. There are plenty of players in this league who would've sulked, would've gotten a huge chip on their shoulders, in the same situation. Marreese took his lumps and he's been rejuvenated ever since. He was up to the challenge and I think that bodes well for the kid, and the coach.
Thoughts in the comments, as usual. The four factors and +/- worksheets have been updated.