Marshall Matters: Could Kendall Marshall be the point guard the Lakers never had?

kendall marshall

This season’s Lak­ers have been forced into an inter­est­ing role. The depar­ture of Dwight and the Kobe/Nash aging injuries have forced them to re-imagine this prime mar­ket, star-led fran­chise as some­thing else entirely: A group of under­dogs and recla­ma­tion projects com­ing together to play hard, play together and play for their indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive bas­ket­ball lives. It’s like a paint-by-numbers col­lege bas­ket­ball movie from the 80s. Some­where it’s only fit­ting that it’s hap­pen­ing in L.A.

There’s a sense of tem­po­rari­ness among D’Antoni’s gang of merry pranksters… They seem like rentals to pro­vide an alter­nate but engag­ing story line dur­ing what seemed like a lost year from the start. A light­hearted, enter­tain­ing digres­sion in the grand nar­ra­tive of con­sis­tent suc­cess that the Lak­ers fran­chise and it’s fans have been spoilt with. Nick Young, Xavier Henry and Wes­ley John­son have been great pick­ups and tremen­dously enter­tain­ing but let’s not fool our­selves into think­ing this is Kobe’s sup­port­ing cast in the quest for that elu­sive 6th ring to rule them all.

But on the 3rd of Jan­u­ary 2014, some­thing hap­pened. Kendall Mar­shall made his first start for the Lak­ers, against a piti­ful Jazz team, but also against poten­tial Rookie of the Year can­di­date at the point, Trey Burke. He scored their first 5 points, pro­ceeded to con­trol the game, run the offense, drop some threes.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR7nw1-nne8

 

 

When the final buzzer sounded, Kendall had played 41 min­utes and fin­ished with 20 points, 15 assists. Burke: 6 points (on 15 shots!) and 9 assists. But like he said in his postgame inter­view, it was all about get­ting the W.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLR11Uv_vd4

 

Games like this are not a rare occur­rence though: another for­mer lot­tery pick / trash heap pickup got some min­utes and a chance to shine…only this time it felt dif­fer­ent. Only this time it may be a har­bin­ger rather than an out­lier. This wasn’t just a good flash-in-the-pan game from a player get­ting big min­utes on a bad team. This looked real. There is a very strong pos­si­bil­ity they may have just found their point guard of the future.

Every year eli­gi­ble prospects declare for the draft, are scouted and re-scouted, ana­lyzed and over­an­a­lyzed. And even­tu­ally some GM, either with a vision or a whim, drafts them into a sys­tem. Some­times the sys­tem fits, some­times the player devel­ops. Other times they fail. But it’s unfair to think it’s all on the rookie. The team, sys­tem, coach­ing, locker room are all vital in deter­min­ing whether the player really devel­ops, or goes by the way­side and becomes a league dropout. Save for a few mon­u­men­tal busts, and bar­ring injury, most high draft picks have some­thing that makes teams take a chance on them.

And even if things don’t go right ini­tially, his­tory has illus­trated how some­times play­ers even­tu­ally find the right sit­u­a­tion to flour­ish in. (Chauncey Billups played for 4 dif­fer­ent teams in his first 5 sea­sons before set­tling in as Detroit’s floor gen­eral who would even­tu­ally lead them to a championship.)

I’m not say­ing Kendall Mar­shall is the next Chauncey Billups. But last year’s Suns team was def­i­nitely not a sit­u­a­tion that was con­ducive to player growth. Still the league is a busi­ness, and Kendall got thrown in as a spare part into the Gor­tat salary dump. He wound up on a team already with a bud­ding super­star point guard that saw no value in keep­ing him around. Still, get­ting waived right after his rookie sea­son was sur­pris­ing. He was, after all, a solid col­lege player from a rep­utable bas­ket­ball pro­gram that never even got a chance to develop or prove him­self in the league. Hell, even Adam Mor­ris­son got six whole years to show he had no busi­ness being in the NBA. Even more sur­pris­ing was that no other team came call­ing either, despite the fact that many had holes at the point guard slot and des­per­ately needed ball move­ment and youth (Knicks!!???)

Being with­out a team gave Kendall the moti­va­tion to work on his weak­nesses – an edge he showed right from his D-League debut where he dropped 31–10 and 9 with 5 threes for every­one who said he couldn’t shoot.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pL8GV7U6WMk

 

Then injuries forced the Lak­ers’ hand & they got a hun­gry, slighted prospect look­ing to prove he was deserv­ing of a fair shot at an NBA career.

In that respect, the Jazz game should be declared as Kendall Marshall’s offi­cial NBA debut (or arrival, if you may) – the game we could look back on as when we first took notice. He’s finally play­ing – at a pace that favours his game, for a coach whose sys­tem makes even aver­age point guards look like world-beaters (Lin­san­ity any­one?) and for a fran­chise that hon­estly hasn’t had a league aver­age point guard since Nick the Quick was drop­ping lefty turn­around fade­away threes for the win.

The Nash sign­ing has been tragic but this could be serendip­ity. Nash may never play another mean­ing­ful NBA minute and Kendall cer­tainly won’t be drop­ping 20-10s every night, but is there a bet­ter men­tor the Lak­ers could have cho­sen for their future floor general?

Dev Kabir Malik has a clinically alarming dependence on basketball and spends most of his time watching, analyzing, writing and even playing a little pickup (and some 2K too). In the little time he has left, he dabbles with design, art & music.