Basketball is fun, they tell you. That's what youth league coaches ingrain in your noggin before all that is wiped away whistle by whistle, windsprint by windsprint, as hormonal desires lead to an over-competitive and, ultimately, an unhealthy obsession with success. Fun is no longer in the cards, or allowed in the game. Smile off a turnover? That's a sign of a weak-minded individual. Laugh through a wayward jumper going in? Not enough focus in a game. As one grows older, and as I started graduating from recreational games to actual games, things like practice and running became more stressful than fun. I'm not sure if Marreese Speights had fun last season playing under Mark Jackson, but getting buckets and smiling all the way back down the court on defense have gone hand-in-hand in the first 10 games this season.
Steve Kerr's offense has allowed Andrew Bogut to free-wheel at the top of the key, dishing to cutters and slashers. Klay Thompson is catching the rock at desirable places on the floor that open up tunnels for him to either shoot or drive in an efficient manner. Harrison Barnes has sped up his release to compensate for the amount of open space he'll have before launching threes. There are still kinks for players like Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli that need to be worked out but the most surprising development has been the free-styling ways of Speights coming to the rescue of an offensively-starved bench unit.
The coaching staff isn't necessarily running any specific plays to manufacture the open shots that are coming Speights' way. What they have done is cut out the isolation sets that were injected into Speights' offensive game last season. Speights didn't seem to mind jacking up contested long two after contested long two, which angered fans to no end. What is starting to come to light is that Speights remains fully coachable and a smart player who has mostly eliminated hard shooting situations and rescinded from hunting tough shots. He's getting wide-open 17-footers, sprinting down the floor against opposing centers for layups, and mugging down his own bench after a fadeaway J against the Charlotte Hornets.
Basketball itself is sometimes that simple. It isn't a contrived set of situational circumstances that aspire to backfire on a player's fortunes - although it seemed the case at times during his career-worst shooting season of 2013-14. Sometimes, it's the smallest particle of confidence rendered by one open jumper, which leads to a rebound in traffic, then a toothy grin into a backpedal down to the other end. Being good at what you do and having fun should not be mutually exclusive entities, at least in a professional atmosphere. Speights is functioning as a taller David Lee; hitting jumpers, finishing well enough to keep interior defenders honest and at least standing tall on the defensive end. On a team that necessitates passing from above-average players who struggle to shoot, Speights' talents are perfectly fitted for success.
So it was on Saturday night after a blowout win against the Hornets in which Speights dropped 13 points on eight shots in 14 minutes. He even gobbled up six boards and did an admirable job on Al Jefferson. As he sauntered up to the podium for a rare appearance as an interviewee, Andrew Bogut cracked a joke while Speights was answering a question from across the room. Speights grumbled a response, as he is wont to do, the media guffawed, and he smiled. That's been going on a lot lately in Speights' world. Basketball is fun.