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Philly Draftee Coming Along

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Nearly a month ago, back when the Celtics' franchise-record winning streak was in its relative infancy, I made a mental note during garbage time of a home victory over Philadelphia:  Keep an eye on Speights.

Marreese Speights, the 76ers' first round pick out of Florida, put up 12 points and 6 boards in just 15 minutes on November 28.  But those 15 minutes came largely in garbage time of a 102-78 Celtics romp.  As we've noted with the Celtics' bench (and many others) this year, the point of no return in blowouts isn't necessarily the best time for evaluating NBA players.

Philadelphia returned to the TD Banknorth Garden last night, and Speights brought an expanded role with him, thanks in part to improved play and in larger part to the recent injury to Elton Brand.  Though he wasn't spectacular by any means in the Celtics' 110-91 win, Speights caught my eye once more in his 31 minutes off the bench.

The 6-foot-10 big man showed off his array of talents at both ends of the floor last night.  He has a long stride and a gait smoother than one expects from someone with a 245-pound frame, and Speights seems to enjoy running the floor.  He got up and down well and wound up with a few buckets in transition.  He attacked the rim hard inside and capitalized on a couple of opportunities when Boston big men were drawn to the Sixers' guards on penetration, leaving the rookie alone to close the deal the open finishes.  Speights also demonstrated a bit of a shooting touch, knocking down two jumpers from 18 feet and beyond. 

All told, Speights went 7-for-11 from the field en route to 16 points on the evening.  Once again, he indicated that he has the tools to help himself become a consistent offensive producer down the road.

The neophyte also grabbed six boards, and he showed off his long reach on the defensive end.  Speights blocked three shots on the evening, and he has the length, leaping ability and timing to continue that pattern of behavior.

Of course, two decent performances in blowout losses does not a star make.  Speights has a long way to go, particularly at the defensive end.  Though his shot-blocking skills are impressive, he needs to be wary of avoiding the fate that befell teammate Samuel Dalembert with more regularity earlier in his career: falling in love with the blocked shot to the point that it came at the expense of playing sound defense.  Dalembert was guilty in years past of relying entirely on his leaping and not doing enough work to battle for position early in possessions, and it cost him as he was constantly outmuscled.  While Speights looked all right defensively last night, opposing centers are putting up an effective field-goal percentage of 54.6 against him, and power forwards (albeit over a much smaller sample size) are going for 66.7 percent effective field goal shooting.  Particularly alarming is that in addition to those figures, the Sixers are an astounding 11.9 points worse defensively per 100 possessions with Speights on the floor than without him.  That isn't encouraging.

But at 26 games into his professional career, Marreese Speights isn't expected to be perfect.  The guy has plenty of work to do on both ends of the floor, but that's how this game works, especially for youngsters.  In addition to his weaknesses, he has shown flashes of high ability already this season, particularly in his two games against the defending champs.  It will likely be worth the time to monitor his growth over the rest of this season and those to come.

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