Over the summer
, we took a slight leap of faith discussing the outrageous per-40 minute production freshman Marreese Speights
(28 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks, 68% FG) put up playing limited minutes behind the NBA-bound trio of Al Horford
, Joakim Noah
and Chris Richard
. Many questioned how we could go as far as to call him the #1 NBA draft prospect in the SEC
after playing only 6 minutes per game. What they didnt realize was that beyond the numbers, the video we could see of the minutes he did play was that impressive.
Fast-forward to his sophomore year, and Speights is playing quite a bit more, up to 22 minutes per game, and his per-40 production has not dropped as much as you might think. 25.5 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 64% shooting from the field is what hes currently averaging per-40, while his assist-rate has quadrupled, and his turnovers are down by about 15%. Hes also fouling quite a bit less. More importantly, Florida is far exceeding expectations this season in the win-loss column, sitting at 18-3 overall, and 5-1 in the SEC.
Physically, its not hard to tell why Speights has terrific NBA potential. He has good size at 6-10, an NBA caliber frame, super long arms, and impressive athleticism. He runs the court well, has good quickness, is extremely quick off his feet, and is notably explosive finishing around the basket. Hes a very mobile big man, fluid and coordinated, and has excellent hands to boot. Our good friend David Thorpe of ESPNs Scouts Inc recently told us that Speights reminds him somewhat of Al Jefferson
, and this seems to be a pretty good best-case scenario comparison.
Offensively, Speights is a back to the basket center all the way, looking most comfortable playing in the paint, but also showing some small sparks of potential with his jump-shot as well. Speights doesnt have the most diverse post-game youll find in the NCAA, but he does a few things extremely well. He is strong enough to establish position fairly well deep inside the paint, and has a terrific jump-hook he can hit with either hand and range out to about 5-7 feet. If closer than that, he likes to finish impressively with a powerful one-handed dunk, aided greatly by his terrific wingspan and the quickness in which he gets off his feet.
Speights can also spin-away from his matchup and knock down a turnaround jump-shot, having the talent to just throw the ball in the basket from tough angles and even under duress. He has absolutely outstanding touch around the basket, and seems to have the potential to even be a legit option in the paint in the NBA as he continues to develop his all-around game. What he lacks in fundamentals, he makes up for with outstanding natural instincts, coming up with plays at times that hint at great things that might come down the road. It wouldnt be a stretch to say that the game comes pretty easy for him. His 64% shooting average from the field ranks 4th
amongst all NCAA players in our 2008 or 2009 mock drafts.
As talented as Speights is around the basket, there are still quite a few things he needs to work on. For one, he doesnt always do a very good job establishing position for himself to receive the ball in the paint, not looking quite as motivated as youd hope to dominate his matchup on this end of the floor, and at times, just floating up and down the court aimlessly. You dont always know what youre going to get from him on a nightly basis in terms of his activity level. His ability to read defenses and react to his matchup also leaves something to be desired, as he does not have many real counter-moves in his arsenal, and often seems to decide what he is going to do before he even gets the ball.
Although hes shown some sparks of being able to finish with his left hand, he still doesnt fully trust himself here, preferring to go to his right at times even when hes forced to go against his body to do so. Hes not immune to throwing up bad shots as youd expect a young, somewhat late-blooming big man to (he was not the most highly touted recruit coming out of high school), not always knowing his limitations, and clearly still lacking an incredibly diverse arsenal of post-moves at his disposal at this point.
Facing the basket, we find somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, Speights appears to be developing a pretty nice jump-shot from 15-17 feet out, and possesses a pretty soft touch from the free throw line as well. His ball-handling skills are poor, though, meaning hes not yet able to take advantage of his superior athleticism as much as he should when facing up against slower big men. While no one will confuse him with Vlade Divac
anytime soon, he does a pretty nice job passing out of double-teams, and generally seems to be a fairly unselfish player who is able to make quick decisions with the ball in his handsall relative to the fairly limited experience he possesses at this point.
Defensively, Speights still has a long ways to go until hed be considered trust-worthy enough by an NBA head coach to see significant minutes at the next level. His fundamentals here are extremely poor, showing very little in terms of a real defensive stance, giving up excessive space in the paint, biting excessively for pump-fakes, not being very effective rotating over to help out on team defense, and doing an extremely poor job hedging the pick and roll. His commitment here leaves a lot to be desired, as hes often fairly lazy closing out on shooters, and generally doesnt seem to put in the greatest effort on this end of the floor. A lot of that has to do with his overall focus-level, which just isnt always there.
Speights can block shots at this level, even if hes not freakishly explosive, but his excellent timing, hands and wingspan really make him a factor. He has a knack for sticking his hands in the right place at the right time, and can even swat away some shots with his left hand. This same knack/timing and terrific tools show up in his rebounding too, where he can be dominant at times when he really puts his mind to it, especially on the offensive end. Hes especially impressive with his ability to tip-in the missed shots of his teammates with terrific touch, and go after his own field goal attempts with a put-back dunk. Hes already the 8th best rebounder per-40 minutes pace adjusted
in the country amongst players in our database, and thats despite the fact that he forgets to box out occasionally, and has a tendency to coast from time to time.
As you can probably guess from this write-up, Speights has some extremely unique tools at his disposal that can really get you excited if you catch him on the right night. We actually dont have that many question marks about his combination of physical tools and skill-set (if he continues to develop his game)-- its more about his mental approach to the game that leaves you wondering at times. Hes been criticized by Floridas coaching staff for some of the things weve outlined here, and these issues (effort, commitment, focus, etc) may extend off the court as well depending on whos being asked. That may be a product of his youth, and could certainly improve in time depending on the type of people that are around him. Weve already seen him make big strides in this area as the season moves on (he seems to be getting a lot of tough love from Billy Donovan
and co.), and thats why another year in college could be just what the doctor ordered, also in order to further develop his promising skill-set.