All this week at Fear the Sword, we’re remembering players who have been forgotten in Cleveland Cavaliers history. On Monday, Chris Manning covered Luke Jackson. Tuesday, Zack Geoghegan wrote about J.J. Hickson. Wednesday, Trevor Magnotti discussed all the former Cavaliers that are playing overseas. Today, we’re here to talk about Marreese Speights.
Marreese Speights should’ve been more of a cult hero, somewhere. He’s got a hilariously difficult name to spell, a mole the size of my fist on the back of his bald head, and inspired one of the more disconcerting photoshops you’ll see on NBA Twitter.
In January 2013, the Cavaliers agreed to a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies to acquire Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a protected first round pick for Jon Leuer. The Grizzlies were eager to get off of salary, and the Cavaliers were eager to take on a first pick to add that salary to a frankly awful team (Cleveland finished 24-58).
Speights has never been super interested in defending, rebounding, or passing, but man, does he love to get buckets, and get buckets he did for the Cavaliers. Speights averaged 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes on a 26.6 percent usage rate for a surprisingly potent second unit .
They somehow absolutely blitzed opposing defenses. The five-man unit of Shaun Livingston, Ellington, C.J. Miles, fellow midseason addition Luke Walton and Speights had an offensive rating of 107.4 in 121 minutes of court time. A good team would never give Speights the kind of minutes the Cavaliers did, but luckily for the viewing public, the Cavaliers were not a good team.
Speights had the second highest usage for the Cavaliers that season in his 39 games with Cleveland, and stole our hearts alongside that beautiful bench unit.
After his half-year in Cleveland, Speights joined the Warriors for a three year stretch as they crystallized into one of the greatest teams in NBA history, and Speights continued his volume scoring ways off the bench. In a way, he was Javale McGee for the Warriors before they added Javale. He did not have a reputation as a winner, but found ways to help the team while still being lovable in his own way.
By 2016, Speights had joined the armada of Warriors shooters by developing a three-point shot, shooting 39 percent from three on just about one attempt per game. Amid the Warriors 73-win run, there was little more backbreaking than a Speights three to cap off a run or to stall momentum for a comeback.
Unfortunately for Speights, his limitations became problems in the postseason, and he found himself with a (more) marginalized role as the competition ramped up, which, well, makes sense.
The Warriors declined to bring him back last year, and the Clippers scooped him up for a solid year where he cranked his three-point shooting up to 3.4 attempts per game. The Clippers didn’t bring him back, though, and he’s landed in basketball Siberia with the Orlando Magic.
Speights has an inherently ridiculous game. He’s a significantly less talented, big-man approximation of J.R. Smith in terms of style. He’s gonna try some stuff that makes you laugh, but he’s got just enough talent to keep you from laughing him out of the gym.
It’s hard to believe that Speights is just 30, as it feels like he’s been around the league for 15 years by now. With that said, given his recent arc, he’s more likely to fade into obscurity and out of the league than to find himself on another contender any time soon. That would be a tragedy.