The Phoenix Suns drafted point guard Kendall Marshall with the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft. High expectations are an inevitable result of being a lottery pick, and Marshall is no different. Many fans immediately penciled Marshall in as the back-up point guard as soon as he was drafted, and some even considered starting him before Goran Dragic signed with the Suns.
Now, after just two summer league games and a total of 59 minutes and 31 seconds of playing time, many fans are freaking out and almost ready to whip out the bust title. The truth is, Kendall Marshall is not ready to be an NBA point guard right now. But that's okay. It's time to temper expectations and let the kid develop. He has a lot of changes to make, and a short amount of time to make them in.
Kendall Marshall was one of the best collegiate distributors in the last 10 years. He finished his sophomore season second in the NCAA in assists per game and set the all-time single-season assists record in the ACC. His entire game is about moving the ball and getting it to his teammates where they are most effective.
Coming out of high school, Marshall committed to North Carolina, one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the country. He began his career backing up Larry Drew, the incumbent at the point for the Tar Heels. However, by mid-season, the team was struggling and Marshall was given the chance to show what he could do. He took advantage of that opportunity and never looked back.
Marshall wowed fans with his incredible court vision and quickly won his teammates over with his unselfish play. North Carolina had plenty of talented athletes (as they always do), but Marshall was the missing piece that tied it all together.
He was put in the best possible position to succeed for a player with his unique talents. During his time in Chapel Hill, Marshall was surrounded by skilled bigs and knock-down shooters, and all of them could run the floor. He developed great chemistry with these players and knew all their strengths and weaknesses. He knew how they played and where they liked to get the ball. Joined in the starting line-up by three other first round draft picks (with a likely 2013 lottery pick coming off the bench), Marshall didn't need to score. All he was asked to do was push the tempo, pick apart defenses and spread the ball around to the shooters and finishers. He did that at a high level for two years, and became very comfortable in that role.
But that's not going to cut it in the NBA. He's not going to be able to just sit back and pass the ball like he did in college. Marshall is going to have to learn to play a different way.
We saw him try to play his North Carolina game in his professional debut, and the result was five assists, five turnovers, one shot attempt and a 15-point loss. He appeared to be uncomfortable and unsure of himself, and it showed in his play. After the game, Suns Summer League head coach Dan Majerle said Marshall is going to have to shoot more.
Marshall took Majerle's words to heart in his second game, but the results weren't any better as he went 1-10 from the field and the Suns lost again.
"Yeah, they were pretty adamant about that, you know, telling me to shoot the ball and it’s a little different for me so it’s something I have to get used to," Marshall said after his second game.
He knows he has to work on it. He knows he has to get in the gym and work on his jumper. That's the first step. Majerle noted the progress from game one to game two for Marshall.
"He played better. A little bit more comfortable. You can see his confidence growing. He’s still got a long way to go, but we’re going to expect that. He made strides definitely from last game."
There is so much truth in that quote. Yes, Marshall did make strides in his second game. Perhaps those strides weren’t as long as some fans were expecting, but he did play better. That being said, the rookie does have a long way to go. A long way. But the team expected nothing more from him, and certainly isn’t ready to give up on him yet.
The summer league roster he is playing with is very different from the team he meshed so well with in college. There aren’t many slashers or shooters or true big men. Instead, the roster is full of combo-forwards, and most of them look to post up or face up and go one-on-one. There doesn’t appear to be much chemistry with this team right now and the players don’t know how to play together. This is not the type of roster that allows Marshall to play to his strengths.
Another factor to consider is Marshall is just now returning to the court after injuring his elbow and wrist. He is still trying to get back to where he was before the injury, both from a physical and a mental standpoint.
"It’s still going to take time to get into game shape," Marshall said. "Obviously summer league games are a lot different from season games. You know, season, they’re back to back to back for four or five months. Once I figure that out I’ll be good."
Despite the struggles, Majerle still has plenty of confidence in his point guard.
"He’s got to figure it out. I just told him to have fun, don’t worry about anything," Majerle said. "He was a little nervous [on Tuesday]. I said you’ll figure it out and take your shot when it’s there. He’ll get it done. He’s a good player. You can see that he knows what he’s doing."
If you watch Marshall closely, there are some positives. As Majerle said, he does know what he’s doing. Marshall loves to run and is looking to push the tempo every chance he gets, often having to urge his teammates to run with him. He looks to get the ball up the court as soon as possible and is a very good outlet passer. He’s also made some impressive passes in the halfcourt, including some pick-and-roll plays with Markieff Morris and a few cross-court skip passes to wide open shooters.
He may have only one made field goal, but it was an impressive one. He used a series of head fakes and jab steps to set up a long pull-up jumper that hit nothing but net. He also made an impressive move to the basket before having his layup roll off the rim.
However, the negatives still outweigh the positives at this point. His jumper needs a lot of work, and he needs to be more aggressive. So far, he spends most of his time around the perimeter and rarely drives past the free-throw line. The next step for Marshall in his progression is to focus on penetrating and getting the ball in the paint. He needs to look to make plays rather than just passes.
We may or may not see that in the final two games of the Summer League. The most important thing for fans is to be patient. He is far from a finished product. But he knows that, and he knows what he needs to work on. Pre-season will be very important for Marshall’s development, so hold off on any serious evaluations until then. The coaching staff still has confidence in Marshall, and until he proves otherwise fans should as well.
All he needs is time.