Marreese Speights: Newest member of The Splash Family Tree

Mo Buckets cover art
Mo Buckets cover art /

Sunday, against the Philadelphia 76ers, reserve Marreese Speights scored 17 points for the Golden State Warriors, while converting 2-of-3 three-point attempts. His performance improved his long-distance tally to 22-of-53 (41.5 percent) on the season. Speights — who made fewer threes during his first seven NBA seasons combined (19-for-79, 24.1 percent) — is having a breakout year from behind the arc.

Making Mo’s Case as the First-Cousin of Splash

In the summer of 2014, while teaming up with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for USA basketball, DeMarcus Cousins publicly requested to become the third Splash Brother. Boogie was summarily refused membership to the Splash brotherhood, but he started a trend; aspiring to be a part of the “Splash Family” became a thing. Subsequently, after hitting 7-of-13 three pointers in a December 6th, 2014 game against Chicago, Draymond Green was dubbed a Splash Cousin. Green showed he was worthy of the praise, as he finished the year with 111 made threes on 33.7% from deep. More recently, Santa Claus was denied his bid to become the third Splash Brother on Christmas day and Coach Steve Kerr was forced to downplay his own candidacy for the position of third Splash Brother (both Curry and Thompson already have NBA-proven Splash Dads, so perhaps Kerr could settle for the role of Splash Uncle). This season, Speights is staking his own claim for the title of Splash Cousin, as he’s currently leading Green (38.4%) and the other Splash Cousin hopefuls — Brandon Rush (40.7%), Harrison Barnes (37.7%), Ian Clark (36.3%), Andre Iguodala (35.6%), and Leandro Barbosa (33.7%) — in three-point shooting percentage.

Cumulative three-point percentage for individual Golden State Warriors*, 2015-16

Dubs 3s
Dubs 3s /

*Players excluded: Curry and Thompson; others with fewer than 50 three-point attempts.

Mo’s personal three-point revolution was slow in starting this season, as he managed only one made three on ten attempts through the halfway point. However, in the last thirty games, Mo’s three-point stroke has come alive, as he’s 21 of his last 43 long range tries (48.8 percent). At the start of this streak, most of his attempts came in the garbage time of blowout victories and Mo undercut his three-point skill by looking at the bench with an “aw-shucks” grin after each make, as if to chuckle about his good fortune. But recently, Mo’s threes have taken on a decidedly businesslike manner. He is taking and making threes prior to the fourth quarter, even when the game is closely contested. And he isn’t laughing when his threes fall anymore; he’s expecting that they will.

Mo Options for the Warriors

Last year, the Warriors had six three-point shooters who finished at better than 33 percent (a logical cutoff for sustainable three-point shooting, which equates to 100 points per 100 possessions): Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Barbosa, Iguodala, and Green. This season, with the improvements of Speights and Rush and the addition of Clark, the Warriors have an astounding number of credible three-point threats: nine!! Moreover, seven of those nine players are shooting better than 36 percent from downtown (a cutoff representing above-league-average production). Leaving aside players with fewer than 50 three-point attempts this season, the Warriors are the NBA team with the most individuals at each of these levels of proficiency — credible and above average — in their arsenal.

Number of credible and above-average three-point shooters* on each NBA team, 2015-16

3 point shooters by team
3 point shooters by team /

*Excluded players with fewer than 50 three-point attempts.

Indeed, even the Warriors’ players who aren’t expected to make threes have had success from deep this season, as Andrew Bogut (100 percent), James-Michael McAdoo (100 percent), and Kevon Looney (50 percent) have led the way on three-point percentage for the team (albeit, on four shots, combined). Obviously, the sweeping success of the Warriors three-point shooters opens up a lot of opportunities for effective offensive strategies. In the recent game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Kerr and his coaching staff deployed their newest three-point weapon, Speights, to gain a tactical advantage. Clippers’ center, DeAndre Jordan, was forced to choose between staying close to the paint to protect his team’s basket and guarding his defensive assignment, Speights, out at the three-point line. The DeAndredon elected to gobble up defensive boards (18 on the night), and in doing so, left Speights wide open from deep. Speights converted only one of these open three-pointers (on three attempts), but this matchup may continue to make the Clippers uncomfortable in the future, especially if they end up facing the Dubs in a No. 1 versus No. 4 second-round playoff matchup.

The Return of Mo Buckets

Given the fact that Speights is a sporadically used reserve player, it’s not surprising that his point production tends to vary a lot from game-to-game. However, we can look at his 10-game moving average of point production over the past three years to get a sense for the trends in his scoring since he has joined the Warriors.

Points Scored by Marreese Speights as a Golden State Warrior, 2013-2016

Mo points no face 2
Mo points no face 2 /

During his first season with the Warriors, Speights never really got into his groove, averaging just 6.4 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting. However, the free agency signing of his old running mate and table setter, Shaun Livingston, put Speights in position to succeed. During the Warriors subsequent 16-game winning streak in November and December of 2014 (which probably seemed like a lot of wins to the Warriors, at the time), Mo Buckets was born, as Speights averaged an impressive 13.8 points per game on 54 percent shooting from the field, notching thirteen double-digit games and three 20-point games. Mo’s shooting was crucial for several regular season wins last year and he also made important contributions during his injury-shortened 2015 postseason: tallying 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in a Game 1 win over the Memphis Grizzlies and 8 points on 4-of-8 shooting in a Game 1 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. As discussed above, Mo got off to a slow start in 2015-16, managing a measly 3.8 points per game during the first 30 games and hitting only 34 percent of his shot attempts. However, since Festus Ezeli’s knee injury, Speights has seen more regular playing time and he has recovered his full Mo-Buckets form, pushing his average back up to 7.2 points per game.

Due to his limited playing time (11.7 minutes per game), Mo’s point-per-game averages belie his ability to contribute instant offense off the bench. This season, Speights is once again averaging more than 20 points per 36 minutes played (22.2 to be exact). Among reserves (i.e., players who average fewer than 20 mpg) who have played at least half of the season (i.e., at least 30 games), Mo is the second-fastest scorer in the league, behind only Boban Marjanovic (22.5 points per 36 minutes played). Mo slots in just ahead of the man who he replaced on the Warriors’ roster, Carl Landry (21.7 pts/36 min), and comfortably ahead of well known super subs such as Kevin Martin (17.6), Manu Ginobili (17.5), and Mo Williams (16.3). Speight’s ability to fill it up was on full display in the Warriors win over the 76ers as he scored 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting in nine first-half minutes on Sunday.

Mo Buckets, Mo Money

The newly christened Splash-Cousin Mo (not to be confused with Cousin Mose) will be a free agent this summer; a fact which has been overlooked due to the other personnel decisions looming large on the Warriors horizon (see: Barnes, Harrison). Right now, Mo is on a team-friendly three-year $11 million deal, which is paying him $3.8 million this season (according to Basketball-Reference). With his production surging and his newly discovered three-point range, Mo figures to be a hotter commodity than he was when he last signed with the Warriors. As a now-even-stretchier stretch-five, Speights may be able to demand a contract more along the lines of Spencer Hawes (four-years, $22.7 million) or even Channing Frye (four-years, $32 million). Of course, Speights has some limitations, too; he’s not a rim protector (except with a drawn offensive foul) and, as such, he seems less likely to be the Warriors’ heir apparent to Bogut than his more defensive-minded teammate, Ezeli. Can the Warriors afford to keep both Speights and Ezeli this summer? Will another team pay to see if Mo can replicate his small-sample-sized three-point success beyond this season? One thing is for sure, if Mo keeps hitting threes he is going to earn himself a big payday.