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While wondering how the 76ers were going to fill the void created by Elton Brand's exit, we pondered the merits of rookie Marreese Speights. More specifically, we said he should get at least 15 minutes a game, he should become a presence on the block, and he should -- along with some efforts elsewhere -- help the Sixers fill the vacancy.
Well, instead of 15 minutes for Speights, how about 24? That's how many minutes Sixers coach Tony DiLeo gave Speights tonight. And how many points did Speights score in those 24 minutes? 24. He scored 16 in the second quarter and eight in the fourth. He didn't play a minute in either the first quarter or the third, but he played the entire second and fourth.
We're used to seeing Speights convert some wicked alley-oops, of which he did plenty tonight (three in the *second* -- thanks sprew -- quarter alone). But it was the rest of Speights' game tonight that should be a big boost for the Sixers. Let's look at a couple of the possessions/plays, and why they're important.
1.) Speights hits about a 15-foot baseline jumper in the second quarter. This shot came off a pick-and-roll on the wing between Speights and Andre Iguodala. Iguodala penetrated middle, Speights rolled to the baseline, Iguodala hits Speights and he has that quick release, great form, and even better rotation. Other than Brand (whose surgery yesterday afternoon went well) what other Sixers frontcourt player could hit that pick-and-roll jumper? Obviously Brand won't be shooting any jumpers for a long while. But what other frontcourt players stretch the defense like that on a pick-and-roll? Samuel Dalembert? No. Reggie Evans? No. Theo Ratliff? No. Thaddeus Young? Yes. Young played great tonight, scoring a game-high 25. Although he starts at power forward, he isn't a traditional front court player. And his scoring doesn't come in tradition front court fashion. Speights', more so, does.
If we've been talking about what half-court options the Sixers are going to be able to employ down the stretch and in the postseason, they need to be able to run a pick-and-roll with a roller that can fade to an open area and command attention. It looks like Speights could provide that.
2.) Speights catches around the right wing from about 12-feet away. He faces up to his defender (whom I can't recall at this moment, either Amare Stoudemire or Jason Richardson*or, thanks to the urging of a Sixers fan, Grant Hill, who certainly is not as quick as he once was, but still ...). Takes a dribble at the defender to get to the low block, then turns his back for a more traditional post-up move. Speights spins off the guy and finishes in the lane with a left-handed shot that looked as natural as if he shot it with his right. That's two games in a row that Speights has showed off a strong left hand in the lane. Like we're saying above, how many other Sixers frontcourt players do you want to catch the ball on the block for a one-on-one move? Dalembert? Not really. Evans? Again, not really. Young? Sure, absolutely.
The Sixers that play well on the block are point guard Andre Miller, Iguodala (he's decent down there), Young, and, we're gathering, Speights. It's tough relying on Miller down on the block too often because that pushes the big guys -- say if it was Dalembert and Evans -- away from that area. So while Miller is effective, it's not like Dalembert is taking his guy with him, nor Evans. Meaning those defenders can sink in to help Miller's defender. But if they can develop Speights down there, then you keep everyone in spots that the defense has to respect.
Obviously there are exceptions to all of this: When Miller is posting up, Sammy can crash the boards better, so it's not all bad. When Speights is on the block, defenses might be able to help off Willie Green or Iguodala's outside shot. But, for the most part, developing a legitimate front court player to play where legitimate front court players play, doing what legitimate front court players do, is going to be the key to, first, getting the Sixers into the playoffs and, second, out of the first round.
So Speights was awesome tonight. Considering he's a rookie, we can't possibly expect this every night. But DiLeo has to at least give Speights enough minutes, every night, to keep that door open.