Warriors’ Speights sets sights on team success

Mo Buckets will be a free agent after Sunday’s Game 7, when the Warriors fight the Cleveland Cavaliers for their second consecutive championship.

But he’s content with his role as a reserve, and says winning is more important than starting on a team that might not be a contender.

That’s important, because even though Marreese Speights is a reserve, and as head coach Steve Kerr has said, has a shelf life before it’s time to sit him down, he’s one of the best scorers in the league per 36 minutes. The only NBA center in the league with better scoring per 36 minutes in 2015-’16 was Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, and Speights ranked 24th in the league.

That may tempt some teams looking for a threatening big man, especially a team that doesn’t plan to play their center more than 25 minutes per game.

Though the NBA has begun following the Warriors’ smaller lineups and trying to develop three-point shooters at an increasing rate, most winning teams have a big who can take over.

And even considering power forwards, the only two who best Speights scoring per 36 minutes are Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin — both considered premium to elite players who a franchise can ride into the postseason.

And teams have certainly salivated at the thought of Speights in their uniforms, the 6-foot-10 right handed bench assassin has dealt devastating blows to most lineups, and even the starting five of most squads.

Speights says, though, that he is committed to winning more than he is bolstering his retirement fund a little bit:

“That’s the biggest picture of anything. Anything you want to be in, you want to be in an NBA Championship. Our second win should come tomorrow, but you never know. So in a couple of years, there’s been a different kind of sacrifice. You sacrifice a lot. But I’d rather win and stay on a team like this than a different kind of role.”

Speights has logged 22 points per 36 minutes, with 10 rebounds, two assists and one block. Those figures are tempered by his per game averages — 7.1 points per game, 3.3 boards and 0.5 blocks.

If Warriors fans are seeking a saving grace that their hero without a jersey available at the NBA Shop will remain in Oakland, it’s the latter set of stats; numbers that show a much different image of the Dubs best big to come off the bench. And just as fans have thought of Speights’ impending free agency, so has he:

“We all think about it a little bit, you can’t not think about it, but you can’t really do anything about it right now. You just make sure you cherish the moment, cherish the right now. After this season is over, after this series is over, that’s when you start. But right now, you try not to think about it. There ain’t nothing you can do about it.”

Another factor that might play into a potential decision to stick around, even for less money than he might make elsewhere, is a bond with teammates. Asked whether he has a favorite moment with Golden State, he declined to state one, noting that spending nearly every waking moment with his team has been special.

For most, this could be bogus — saying the right things, attempting to come off as a team player who dedicates his every second to bettering his craft.

Speights doesn’t need to pretend, though, he is the consummate professional that general managers crave, and one who generally doesn’t waste his time issuing the politically correct statement. He tells it like it is.

And that’s the last reason that Speights trotting out to a home crowd in Oakland later this year appears likely. He could say the things that public relations departments want, but he tends to take it his own way. And his teammates love him for it. Almost as much as the boost he provides off the bench.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Golden State Warriors beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Warriors basketball.