Marreese Speights is playing the best basketball of his NBA career this season for the Golden State Warriors. After stops in Philadelphia, Memphis and Cleveland, the 2008 first-round pick arrived in the Bay last season and appeared in 79 games off the bench for the Dubs. This year, the big man from Florida has increased both his production and playing time, nearly doubling his scoring average from a year ago in roughly six more minutes of action. Logging 18.4 minutes per game under the direction of first-year head coach Steve Kerr, Speights is scoring 12.6 ppg on 53 percent shooting (both good for career-highs) to go along with collecting 5.2 rebounds.
As longtime NBA veteran Andrew Bogut makes his way back to full strength from injury, the 6-10 Speights helps form a dangerous and unique tandem up front at the center position. Whether it’s been as a starter, or coming off the bench as one of the League’s most effective reserves, Speights has provided strength, athleticism and toughness around the painted area. His ability to serve as a pick-and-pop big alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson has also offered an effective offensive option for the Splash Brothers—one that’s proving difficult to defend.
Speights’ big games this season include 28 points during 25 minutes of work in a 91-86 win over Oklahoma City, 27 more in 24 minutes during a win over Charlotte and 26 in 25 in a victory over the Raptors. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 25 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Utah. More important than any individual metric, Speights is helping his team win more games than any other team in the League.
After defeating Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the woeful Cavaliers on Friday, the Warriors currently own the best record in the NBA at 29-5. It’s the type of success both individually and collectively that will earn Speights strong consideration in both the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player Awards by season’s end. We caught up with “Mo Buckets” in Golden State after that 112-94 beatdown to talk about all that and more.
SLAM: You guys are now 29-5 and playing a very entertaining brand of basketball. How fun has this been for you?
Marreese Speights: It’s the best feeling ever. We’re rolling, we have the best record in the NBA, and I’m having an opportunity to contribute. So we’re riding this roller coaster until the wheels fall off. But we don’t see the wheels falling off no time soon. We are a confident team, and we are going to go out there every night and give it our best effort.
SLAM: Seems like everything you’re throwing up is going in right now. You’re shooting a career-high from the field, ranked in top-15 in League in field-goal percentage, what do you attribute that to?
MS: It’s all about game preparation and my teammates finding me in the right positions on the court. It’s also just about team chemistry. I put myself in a situation where I came into camp in a little better shape, little more focused this year. So that’s all it is, it’s all just coming together and paying off for us.
SLAM: What has Coach Kerr been talking with you about throughout the season? What’s your relationship like with him?
MS: Coach said he always knew I was good a player, I’ve just been able to earn his respect. I went out there at practice, every chance I had, and was just working hard while I wasn’t playing. Just being professional. Now, when I go out on the court, I’m trying to play my heart out for him. Coach never gave up on me, he always believed in me. So I feel like I owe him every time I’m on the court.
SLAM: How good is Stephen Curry? What is it like to go to work with that guy?
MS: It’s fun playing with him, he’s the best player in the NBA right now. He just always puts his teammates in a position to succeed. He could get 50, but he’s also dishing out assists, creating open shots for everybody, playing defense, and he’s just our captain on the court. A lot of people don’t see that side of him as a player, but he really is our captain and leader.
SLAM: What have you been listening to on your way to the arena? I know you’re a big Boosie fan…
MS: I have been listening to a lot of Boosie. I’m also listening to Kevin Gates—”I Don’t Get Tired.” And then I’m listening to my boys from back home, BPM, Business Power Movement. They’re my homies.
SLAM: How about this Bay Area lifestyle? You’re in your second year out here, how have you liked living in The City?
MS: The lifestyle out here is great. Everywhere you go, the fans embrace you. It’s almost like a college town, everywhere you go they’re always embracing you. Great scenery around here too, great people, and it’s just all really great. This is the best time of my life.
Brendan Bowers is an NBA writer who covers the Cavaliers and the NBA in Cleveland for SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @BowersCLE. Image via Getty.