There's not much about Kendall Marshall that suggests he's a mere 22 years old. He's recently completed his second season in the NBA on his third team. He's already been traded and waived, a dubious distinction usually reserved for aging veterans and undrafted players, not a young man who was a bonafide lottery pick less than two years ago. The squad that cut him, the Washington Wizards, was willing to let Marshall go without even giving him a chance to make the opening night roster. From there, he spent months without an NBA contract, a stunning development for a player so highly touted coming out of the University of North Carolina.
The Los Angeles Lakers finally picked him up in early January, after injuries had taken down a myriad of guards including Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake. Once on the team, Marshall sported an "old man game", relying much more on guile and precision than dynamic athleticism. For a guy who should have been a senior in college last year, Kendall's all-around game resembled the 37 year-old Andre Miller, with his arsenal of long distance set shots and chest passes from the corner.
Marshall's story and skill set doesn't read like a player who has barely over 100 games of NBA experience. Oh, and the Baron Davis beard certainly doesn't help matters either. But regardless of how old his face or game looks on a night to night basis, there's no doubt that Marshall proved much more than the young NBA washout draft bust he was shortly before the calendar turned to 2014.
More season reviews
More season reviews
As mentioned, the former Tarheel came to the Lakers when they were in shambles. With five guards down, the team's point guard rotation was dwindled down to Xavier Henry, Nick Young and Jodie Meeks. The injury situation had gotten to the point where the passing qualifications for lead guard was "can dribble ball without bouncing it off foot". Marshall proved to be much more than that.
Kendall burst onto the purple and gold scene with a coupe underwhelming contests on both ends of the floor. It wasn't until former coach Mike D'Antoni's hand was truly forced to put his only natural point guard on the roster into a starting role, despite just a handful of practices with the team. As far as the statistics go, MDA couldn't have regretted it. Marshall averaged 11.9 ppg and 11.5 in that opening month, shooting .441% from downtown despite an ugly set shot with a seemingly interminable trigger time. He wasn't the quickest guard on the team, but he consistently drew defenders in to the paint despite not being a strong finisher at the rim. MDA's system seemed to be the right fit for the freewheeling Marshall, who always seemed to be more happy to rack up a dozen assists rather than take a dozen shots.
It's hard to say that Kendall was a "season saver" because after all, he was the primary point guard on the worst Los Angeles Lakers team ever. He was, however, a capable ballhandler that looked proficient enough in his role to keep the squad from even further embarrassing themselves every night, if that's possible. When the most complimentary thing I can say about his performance is "stops team from being a complete laughingstock", that might not bode well for his future prospects.
After 54 games, it's fairly clear to me who Kendall Marshall is, who he will be, why he was drafted so high and why he was thrown to the wayside by two teams in just over a year. The knocks on his game are fairly obvious to me, starting most notably with his subpar defense. At 6'3", he's got good size for a point guard, but his lack of athleticism and explosive quickness invalidates any physical advantages he may have. Marshall has fairly horrid lateral quickness and a vertical jump again, closer to Andre Miller than Russell Westbrook. In a word, he's slow, to the point where it's really difficult to believe how young he is. Offensively, his passing and court recognition are very, very good, with matching ball handling skills. His turnover-to-assist ratio was 3:1, a really fantastic number for a second year player. However, without an explosive first step off the dribble or almost any offensive game going to the rack, it's really hard for Marshall to take true advantage of his natural abilities. His .399 3P% this season was emboldening, but the fact that he takes so long to wind up for a set shot that he can't take with any sort of movement (and needs at least a foot from a defender to get off), he's not really an effective weapon from long.
Most of Marshall's weaknesses are things he probably won't ever be able to overcome-he's slow, unathletic and plodding... and he's 22. Defensively, he'd have to add a lot of strength to at least muscle up opposing guards that will no doubt blow past him on any given possession, or force past screens on the perimeter. In the right scheme, a good defensive coach may be able to hide some of his deficiencies, but the fact that he's so brutal in recovery situations and not at all fleet of foot put him at such a disadvantage in almost any scenario. Offensively, Marshall is going to have to develop some sort of running tear drop shot that he can hit with regularity, or become the prodigal Professor post player that he looks like already. Other than that, I just don't know what else he can do with his lack of natural skills.
It may not seem like it, but I'm not completely down on Marshall, especially as he pertains to being a Laker next season and beyond. First and foremost, he's on a dirt cheap contract. GM Mitch Kupchak and VP of Player Personnel Jimmy Buss added a very affordable second year to his nearly minimum deal last season, worth just $915,243. For that price, it's almost impossible not to carry a guy on the roster that's by all accounts a professional, a great teammate and has a really remarkable beard. Moreover, he's got at least two defined skills in his ballhandling and passing, which are both very uncharacteristic for a player of his age and experience. Given the ability to learn how to use his size and strength to his advantage, as well as develop any sort of offense while penetrating the lane, he's still got a little bit of room to grow as a player.
Let's be clear though: Kendall Marshall is not the "point guard of the future". His upside is limited, mostly due to the fact that he'll almost certainly always be a minus defender, as well as his startling lack of speed and athleticism. He can greatly improve as an offensive threat with a couple of added weapons to his arsenal. Marshall could be a great back-up point guard for years to come, serving as a "change of pace" ballhandler who can take a team out of rhythm quickly. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised to see him out of the league in one year's time either.
The Lakers front office has got to be complimented for finding perhaps a long term bench solution off the scrap heap for a relative pittance. However, to think that the team found anything more than that is overlooking Marshall's very glaring weaknesses.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino