Kendall Marshall’s start to his professional career has been anything but ordinary for the second year pro. Playing for two seasons at North Carolina, Marshall set the all-time single season assist record of 351, shattering the mark formerly held by Ed Cota. Towards the end of his sophomore season at UNC, Marshall fractured his wrist against Creighton in the NCAA tournament and missed the rest of season.
Entering the 2012 NBA Draft, Kendall Marshall was lauded for his vision on the court and his size to play the point in the NBA. The knock on Marshall was his inability to shoot and his lack of foot speed, hence a liability on defense.
“Marshall is a left-hander with extraordinary vision, passing ability and leadership,” as collegiate basketball analyst of ESPN Jay Bilas puts it, “he has good size but lacks foot speed and the ability to get by people off the dribble.”
Marshall was selected 13th overall by the Phoenix Suns, primarily looked upon as the successor to the soon to be departing Steve Nash. However, Marshall’s rookie year seemed to prove that the pre-draft outlooks seemed to be more on point with his deficiencies on the basketball court more so than in the areas where he could thrive.
At the conclusion of his rookie year, after numerous trips back and forth between the Suns' bench and D-League, the NBA as a whole deemed Marshall as a premature bust. Averaging roughly 15 minutes on a lottery bound team did not help his case of becoming the heir apparent to Nash.
On October 25, just days before the start of the NBA season, the Suns traded Marshall to the Washington Wizards as cap filler in a deal centered around Marcin Gortat, Emeka Okafor and a first round pick. The Wizards waived Marshall after the NBA approved the trade. Lottery picks rarely become free agents before their second season begins.
But the NBA can often become a land of opportunity for young players. After the latest injuries suffered by Steve Blake and Steve Nash, Jordan Farmer was the only viable option on the Lakers' roster to man the point guard position. On December 20, the Lakers signed Marshall as a backup to Farmer with a vesting team option for the 14-15 season.
Farmer suffered a torn hamstring injury on January 1 and Marshall suddenly had a huge opportunity to actually start and play heavy minutes on a depleted team. On January 3, Marshall made his first start for the Lakers and recorded 20 points with 15 assists. Since then, Marshall has averaged a 10.5 points, 9.3 assists, while shooting 48 percent on three-pointers in 17 games.
Even though those numbers look superb, it is easy to downplay those numbers. Mike D’Antoni has been known notoriously for resurrecting careers from seemingly bust players into new life. Currently, the Lakers run the third fastest pace offense in the NBA. Marshall fits perfectly into the D’Antoni system of basketball. Any player that thrives in the pick and roll and is able to knock down the long ball is an asset in D’Antoni’s eyes.
Marshall’s small sample size is bound to catch up and diminish his value back to a middling point guard. His 48 percent three-point shooting is not sustainable given his prior history. Even Marshall will acknowledge his inability to shoot at a consistent level for a guard.
“Stop askin me how to shoot with me in 2K, I don’t know,” Marshall humorously tweets to his followers, “I’m still tryin to figure it out in real life.”
Finally it is imperative to address D’Antoni’s long-perceived struggles on defense. As mentioned earlier, one of Marshall’s limitations is his defense. His lack of foot speed allows opposing point guards to blow past him time and time again.
When the Lakers are healthy at point guard again, it will be interesting to see how Marshall's role evolves at that point.
Regardless of the status of D’Antoni beyond this season, the Lakers should certainly keep Marshall as a young serviceable reserve guard that can run the point. Given how poorly the backup guards on the Wizards have played this season, Ernie Grunfeld likely regrets being forced to waive Marshall.
Considering how chaotic Marshall began his professional career in the NBA, it is safe to assume he would be more than content to sign a team friendly multi-year contract, even if its just in a backup role.