Editorial: Speights feature

Speights Feels Grateful As Career Year From Deep Continues

Rowan Kavner

LOS ANGELES – Ask DeAndre Jordan about Marreese Speights, and he’ll look up quizzically in silence, as if he’s never heard the name. Shortening it to “Mo Speights” elicits the same perplexed look.

It takes the full nickname to get Jordan to react like he’s heard of the man.

“Ohhhh, ‘Mo Buckets,’” Jordan says sarcastically. “Yeah, I love Mo.”

For a player who’s spent the last three seasons on the rival Warriors and two seasons before that on the rival Grizzlies, he’s managed to make a comfortable adjustment in just half a season with the Clippers, who enjoy having him around.

“It’s a long season, and you need guys who fit your team,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “You could put Mo on any team, and he would fit. He plays with joy. Guys love having him around. He’s a funny guy.”

Maybe that’s why, upon hearing Speights’ name, Austin Rivers’ first reaction is to grin.

“He’s just a great guy,” Austin Rivers said. “He’s also a hell of a player. Any time you have that kind of combination, it’s easy to cheer for someone like him.”

That’s exactly what the Clippers did Monday night, with the game already in hand.

Speights had 23 points and nine rebounds in the waning minutes of a thrashing against the Thunder, but was a rebound short of his third double-double of the season and his first 20 and 10 game since 2013.

With 1:38 left, Speights finally corralled the elusive 10th rebound. The Clippers’ starters - watching the rest of the game from the sidelines – erupted in cheers, throwing their hands in the air.

“This team and this city welcomed me with open arms, even though (we) used to be rivals,” Speights said. “It’s just been a blessing. It’s been great to be here, playing for the organization and the city and this team, being able to play with Doc Rivers and (Chris Paul) and all those guys has really been a blessing. It’s been fun.”

That has a lot to do with his production.

“Mo Buckets” has lived up to the nickname this season more than ever before. Barely past the halfway point of the 2016-17 season, he's already hit a career-high 61 3-pointers, two seasons after attempting just 18 3-pointers in the regular season for the 2014-15 Warriors.

Despite the vast increase in long-range attempts – rising dramatically each of the last three years – it didn’t take any nudging to get Speights to pull the trigger more from behind the arc, where he’s currently leading the way in efficiency for big men. Among centers who’ve shot at least 100 3-pointers this season, Speights holds the highest 3-point percentage in the NBA at 39.1 percent.

“He didn’t take 3s three years ago or two years ago,” Doc Rivers said. “He started taking them last year, and by the end of the year, he was taking a lot of them, so I think he was already on his way to being a 3-point shooting big. We’ve just taken advantage of his growth.”

Speights is averaging 1.4 made 3-pointers per game, and he finds himself in the midst of a 17-game stretch making at least one 3-pointer per game, the longest streak of his career.

In addition, his 10.2 points in 16.5 minutes per game this season gives him the highest scoring average of any player averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game.

“When he’s out there, it opens up the court so much,” Paul said.

Charging Forward

Speights’ ability to score and stretch the floor made him an attractive option for the Clippers this offseason, but he’s been even more than the offensive sparkplug they hoped they were getting.

Known more for his offense than his defense, “Mo Buckets” has still managed to make his mark on the defensive end of the floor by taking “Mo’ Charges” than anyone in the league.

His 21 drawn charges leads the NBA, as his teammates are well aware.

“He talks about that all the time in the locker room – ‘I lead the league in charges, you know that right?’Sometimes, he’ll take a charge when he shouldn’t take a charge and you’ll be like, ‘Mo, what are you doing? He’ll be like, ‘Yo, I’m the league leader.’

“You can’t say nothing to him after he says that, man.”

It’s all friendly banter, with Austin Rivers adding how Speights’ charges often come at times in the game when Clippers need a stop most. Even the Clippers’ defensive leader respects Speights’ ability to get his body in position in front of players attacking the paint.

“I can’t do it,” said Jordan, who could only recall two charges he’s ever taken – one on Shaquille O’Neal and the other on Dwight Howard.

“One was an offensive foul, so it wasn’t really like it was a charge. But any time you take an elbow to the neck on Shaq, that’s a charge. So, that goes down in my career as a charge. That’s a long way for me to fall. So, I don’t like doing that, I’d rather just contest a shot…But Mo is very good at it.”

The addition of Speights, Raymond Felton and Brandon Bass have transformed the Clippers’ backup unit into one of the more formidable backup groups in the league, giving them much more offensive firepower beyond Jamal Crawford isolations and Austin Rivers attacks to the rim that had sometimes defined the offense of reserve groups in the past.

As Speights continues to get more and more comfortable as the year progresses, he’s just grateful to be somewhere where he’s given a chance.

“Usually when I’m playing good, sometimes I have to look (over) my shoulder not knowing when I’m going to play again, but Doc’s given me an opportunity and players have welcomed me and helped me out,” Speights said. “Like I said, it’s a blessing.”