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Clippers Free Agent Retrospective: Mo Speights Was a Fun Role Player

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While he was only a Clipper for one season, Mo Speights was a useful bench player who quickly became a fan favorite in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Key Clippers’ Stats:

· Signed a two-year contract (with opt-out after one season) with Clippers at the veteran minimum on July 12, 2016

· Played in all 82 regular season games, starting two, and averaged 15.7 minutes per game

· Averaged 8.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game

· Shot 44.5% from the field, 37.2% from three (on 3.4 attempts per game), and 87.6% from the free throw line (on 1.7 attempts per game)

· Played in all seven playoff games, starting two, and averaged 14 minutes per game

· Averaged 6.6/2.9/0.4 in the playoffs on 43.2/35/70 shooting

· Opted out of 2nd year with Clippers, and signed a 1 year deal for veteran’s minimum with Orlando

Expectations:

Even though Marreese Speights was signed for only a veteran minimum contract, people were incredibly excited about his coming to the Clippers. This was mostly because he had been a key role player on the Warriors for the two years prior, and his arrival was seen as bringing some of that toughness and championship expertise to the Clippers. In addition, Mo had just started to expand his range beyond the three-point line in the 2015-2016 season, and the Clippers had never had a true stretch big man before his arrival. Finally, while many Clippers’ fans hated him from his days in Memphis and Golden State, they widely acknowledged that he’s probably one of the players you hate on other teams, and love on your own.

Mo was expected to be in the competition for the 3rd big man spot with Brandon Bass. Due to his shooting and greater size, most people thought he had the upper edge on Bass going into the season. On the Clippers, that role means playing 15-18 minutes a game and being able to work alongside both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (for stretches at least).

Reality:

Mo Speights was mostly what Clipper fans thought he would be. He chucked a lot of shots, played little defense (outside of drawing charges), rebounded well, and didn’t do much else on the basketball court. What he did do, however, was take a lot of threes-- and make them at a pretty solid rate. This newfound ability to be a semi-volume three-point shooter was very valuable on a Clippers’ team that often lacked outside shooting. With spacing congested on the court due to the presence of DeAndre Jordan, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Blake Griffin (pre-All Star break), the room Mo provided was helpful in clearing out the paint for drives to the rim.

The problems with Mo, as they always have been, were his “shooters shoot!” mentality and his ineffectiveness on the defensive end of the court. Even though his usage rate (percentage of possessions used, via shot or turnover) actually went down compared to previous years, it still felt as though he was 75% likely to take a shot as soon as he got a somewhat decent look. When Mo was hot, this was often a good thing, as his ability to drain threes in transition made him a crowd favorite at Staples Center, and his infectious personality would really get the fans going. When Mo was cold, he would shoot anyway, and his misses would lead to the other team scoring in transition on a far too frequent basis. On defense, Mo is not big enough or athletic enough to be a rim protector, and is too slow to guard quicker players out on the perimeter. Therefore, his best bet is to try to read which way the ball-handler is going, and set up for a charge. Mo was shockingly effective at this, finishing the season with 34 charges drawn, second in the entire NBA. While the charges were great, they were about the only thing Mo provided defensively.

Legacy:

In the end, Mo did exactly what he came to LA to do (on his end). He was a scoring force off the bench, stepped up when needed, and delighted the crowd. Even though his outside shooting slumped substantially the last three months of the season, it still felt like every three he took from the top of the key was going in, especially off a fastbreak. He was a key role player for a team that never felt like it was really going anywhere, despite a quick start to the season. And in some ways, Mo was a good representation of the team as a whole.

While Mo played ok against the Jazz in the playoffs, he really didn’t step up much with Blake Griffin out, and Utah repeatedly exposed his limitations. Like so many other players on the Clippers, Mo was a one-way player. More than that, he was limited even on offense-- a good but very un-versatile player, someone who was easy to take account of during a tight playoff series. That was readily apparent, and Doc moved away from him as the series went along, opting to go small instead.

As soon as the season was over, it was clear that Mo and the Clippers would probably be moving on. He wanted to use them as a springboard to get a bigger contract this summer, and thought his play deserved it. Instead, he became a victim of an unfriendly free agent market, sitting around until late July when he finally signed for the minimum on a non-contender.

I will remember Mo Speights relatively fondly. He didn’t turn me into a huge fan, but he tried hard, and it was obvious that he really cared about winning. That means something, especially on a team that was accused of not having enough “fire” over the years. Mo was fun to watch, and his ability to draw charges was truly spectacular. I wish him well over in Orlando, and wouldn’t mind him coming back to LA sometime. Good luck Mo!