THE GOAL is a simple one, put forth by 76ers coach Doug Collins. He wants his team to possess the best group of bench players in the whole NBA.
Collins already has taken a couple of steps in that direction, as Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams are two of the best bench players in the league. Now, with Evan Turner emerging as a player, but not occupying a starting spot yet, the second unit has gotten even stronger. Now there is another reserve Collins mentioned yesterday after the team's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine who can be a huge help in reaching the goal.
Marreese Speights has been sort of an enigma since being taken with the 16th pick in the 2008 draft. There are few 6-10 players in the league who possess the offensive skills that Speights does, whether it be draining long jump shots or using nimble moves around the basket. His offensive attributes are close to All-Star level. It's the other end of the court where Speights falters - mightily. He also has struggled with his endurance and some mental areas of the game.
Now, though, with the crazy schedule the Sixers must endure - 66 games in 123 days - benches must grow. It will be almost impossible for a coach to rely on a rotation of fewer than nine or 10 players throughout the condensed season, brought about by the lockout. It all begins on Monday at Portland, when the Sixers open the season with the first of four games in 6 days out West.
That's why Collins is relying on Speights, who last season averaged career lows in points (5.4), rebounds (3.3) and minutes (11.5) per game.
"Mo Speights had by far his best practice today," Collins said yesterday after the team's workout. "I told him that, going out on the West Coast, I need him. I need experienced guys as we start this season. I'm hoping that he's going to take this next week and really push himself, because he can do so many things for us. We're going to need strength in numbers. I think with four games in 6 nights I'm going to need 10 guys, 10 or 11 guys, and I don't want to put too much pressure on [rookies] Nik [Vucevic] or Lavoy [Allen] that early in the year on the road to have to count on them. Mo becomes very important for us as we get ready to start the season."
Yesterday, as the team played a spirited, 12-minute scrimmage, Speights looked very good, draining four long-range jumpers and pulling down a few rebounds. Collins kept him out there for the full run, as Speights again needs to work on his endurance.
"I'm getting myself in better shape," Speights said. "When I came in, I wasn't in that good of shape, but I'm getting myself in better shape. I was in decent shape, but I'm getting myself back in game shape. It's kind of hard just working out at home, and when you get here back at practice, it's kind of different."
Few thought Speights would still be here, let alone be vying for valuable minutes as the season quickly approaches. But no trade was made, he is here, and his coach expects the most out of him, since that is the case.
"I've really always had very much of an open conversation with Mo. The thing he knows deep in his heart is that I do care about him and that I want him to do well," Collins said. "He's a really, really good kid. He's a great kid. I just don't want him to look out there and think, 'They've given up on me. I'm not going to play.' I said, 'Mo it's been my experience that players give up on themselves before coaches do, and I want you to get your mindset back.'
"The last 2 days, he was very engaged and had very good practices. I need to get him in a little bit better shape, and he's working at that. He's got from now until the 26th. I need him on that trip. He can knock shots down. He had seven rebounds in 12 minutes the other night for us [in Washington].
"I just shot him a little text on Saturday and told him, 'I need you and I don't want you to be disconnected thinking that you're going to be somewhere else. You're here, and if you're here and you play well, you're going to get minutes, because that's what I always do, I always play the guys who are doing well.' He knows that's the truth. It's not like I'm a new coach to him now. We've been around each other, and he knows that my word is my bond. "
And the coach is one of the reasons Speights is still glad to be here.
"This is my fourth year, so I'm pretty happy, and I know the city a lot and I like playing here," Speights said. "We have a good relationship. It means a lot. Some places you go, you don't have a good relationship with your coach. Here I have one with coach, so it's pretty good."
The Sixers and Wizards will play the last exhibition game tonight at the Wells Fargo Center at 7. Doug Collins said that they will do a little scouting for the game, as they will do during the season . . . Collins said he was very pleased with Friday's 103-78 win in Washington, but went through a film session yesterday showing some mistakes. "So my point of emphasis was we showed some tape in transition where we probably left 16 points get away from us. Had we just maybe not turned the ball over or made the simple play. It takes about 2 weeks to get summer ball out, where guys will kind of throw lobs and do that spectacular play. But I loved the way we ran the floor, I loved the way we shared the ball. At halftime, we had 16 assists and seven turnovers, which is very much on par with what we'd like to do. We'd like to average 24 to 25 assists if we could with 13 turnovers. Then it was 8 and 13 in the second half. We got sloppy."