Kendall Marshall has a few things going for him. He is on a very cheap (in NBA terms), guaranteed contract and he is only 21 years old. In college, he was the best passer in the game (possibly in the past decade). His basketball IQ is very high and his court vision is second only to a few.
But his lack of development of any other NBA-level skills have so far made it tough for Marshall to succeed. He cannot shoot well, doesn't run fast and doesn't use his large frame (for a PG) to his advantage. Worst of all, he has always seemed sure that he can succeed without significantly improving in any of those areas.
It started in Summer League, then carried over to a lackluster training camp and right into the season, down to the D-League and back to a rebuilding project.
"I wasn't as consistent as I wanted to be last year," Marshall said after his first practice with new coach Jeff Hornacek in preparation for the Summer League that begins on Saturday. "So if I can become more consistent on the defensive end and make my presence felt offensively getting guys in position to score as well as taking advantage of my own possessions, I think I can have a pretty good season."
Marshall is a thinking man, but it still seems like he thinks he just needs to "get by" without those vital skills. He thinks about setting up other teammates, and he thinks about how to facilitate that by doing everything else just well enough to be respectable. Even now, he doesn't sound like he's totally ready to be aggressive in getting his own shots.
"Personally, I just want to get my body where I want it to be," he said of his personal goals this season. "And take advantage of my size. Maybe drop a few pounds and be a threat offensively. That would open up a lot more passing."
To become a threat offensively, he has to be able to shoot better. And with enough repetitions, Marshall could get his percentages up. But that's not the biggest problem, according to his coach.
"When you look at it you think it's a terrible shot in terms of his form, but it really isn't," Hornacek said of Marshall's shot. "It's just low and to get that off against a defense is going to be difficult. And that's the thing he has to work on is get it above his head. He's going to have to put the time in. It's an adjustment for him."
Hornacek was being kind. Marshall also doesn't get any air under his feet on the shot which compounds the problem even further. A slow-motion, set shot with a forehead-level release means Danny DeVito could block that shot right now.
"That's going to be a gradual thing that he has to work on day in and day out," Hornacek said of the process. "And just try to lift it a little higher. They may let him shoot it now because they don't think he's a great shooter. But I told him as soon as you start making those shots, they're going to guard you and then you're not going to get them off. So you might as well start practicing getting it up higher now. Hopefully he gets there."
To make matters worse for Marshall, it's not just about shooting or about the competition.
These Suns are going to run hard, which suits newcomers Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin and incumbent Goran Dragic to a "T". With Bledsoe and/or Goodwin running alongside him, Dragic may no longer be the only guy down the court on a breakaway.
"He wants us to run," Marshall said right off the bat.
"We'll know if they are in shape or not," the coach said with a chuckle. "We want to push the ball. We're putting a little pressure on them to take it to another level in terms of their intensity and what we're asking them to do offensively and defensively."
But that's not necessarily Marshall's game.
"Some of them are used to just walking the ball up the court and not getting in the post quickly," Hornacek said of the summer squad after practice. He was talking of all the returning players, including the Morrii, Marshall and Garrett.
The new coach is not at a loss for ideas with Marshall though. There's worse things than having a good passer on your team.
"He's not the type of guy that is gonna fly down the court and penetrate and put pressure on a defense," Hornacek said of Marshall. "But he's a great passer when it gets into drag action, pick and rolls. He can hit those rollers and make the extra passes and those guys can put the pressure on the defense."
But there's still that matter of being able to shoot. Hornacek has a plan for that too.
"I did it when I was 22 or 23 years old," he said. "So he should be able to do it too if he puts the time in it. That's going to be a gradual thing that he has to work on and do it day in and day out and just try to lift it a little higher."
For those Suns fans who don't remember Hornacek, he came to the Suns in 1987 as a rookie combo guard who couldn't shoot straight. His GM, Jerry Colangelo, told him he needed to remake his broken shot. Within a year, Hornacek's shot was pure and he became one of the best shooters in the entire league for the next dozen seasons.
For his part, Marshall knows he's not on solid ground, and never has been since he was drafted.
"Personally, I didn't prove that I could be on the court early in the season," Marshall said. "I did get my chance in the second half of the year, but I didn't do as well as I wanted to."
Regarding the acquisition of Bledsoe, drafting of Goodwin and looming return of Dragic, Marshall said, "I was excited but at the same time, as a competitor, you put your hard hat on and realize it's a tough road ahead. They are great assets to our team, they're going to make us better, so I'm excited about that."
Marshall is ready to get back on that court this weekend in Summer League.
"I'm a lot more confident," he said. "I know what I'm walking into. I know what it takes. It's a total different mindset than what I came in with last year."
Let's hope part of that mindset is to stretch out his shot to get some more height on his release, use his body to muscle into the paint and keep on passing like he knows he can.
"First of all: win. That's my first goal," he said of Summer League. "The second goal is to prove that I can be a contributor on this team."
To do that, he's going to have to be a lot better this summer, and from here on out, than he was a year ago. Fortunately for the Suns, Marshall is only 21 years old still. (making him only the third youngest on the team, by the way, thanks to this year's draft)
So many trades, so many moving parts, so much change. Do you like change? If you don't feel free to turn off the NBA's version of "real life NBA2K13" as there are very few rosters that will look the same as last year with all the activity this off-season.
Before looking at the Phoenix Suns off-season we offer our take on the Dwightmare and then we assess the off-season to date for the team. Again, before the off-season has technically begun.
Seventh Edition: Five Questions on the Free-Agency
Dave King: Should be a good move for Dwight to rekindle some of what he had in Orlando. Now he's survived a year of being talked down to by Kobe and realized he'd rather be "the man" again. Except that time he was "the man" he complained about not having enough help and got his coach fired. He's got that again in Houston. So, what could go wrong?
Jacob Padilla: This is where I expected him to end up, so no surprise. Depending on how they can round out their roster (Casspi is your first post-Dwight addition?), they'll be hosting a first round playoff series at the least. One of the most efficient volume scorers in the league combined with the most dominant defensive presence? They're going to be good.
Jim Coughenour: Good for them. Proof that a team can rebuild without bottoming out. Daryl Morey is a rockstar.
Kris Habbas: They got their guy. That is something that every team wants to say at the end of the off-season, some do, and most don't; but the Rockets did. They will have to develop chemistry, which puts them behind the Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, and Spurs to start the season.
Richard Parker: Glad it's over. I thought for a while that Houston was the best place for him so I think he made the right decision.
Sean Sullivan: What a lovely mess. As for the fit I think Howard will do better in Houston overall. The Rockets might make some noise next season, but OKC is still a better team.
2. Should the team be more active this summer?
JP: Yes, a little bit. I'd really like to see Luis Scola moved first and foremost. Perhaps see what our options are for moving Morris, Morris, Marshall, and/or Brown. Other than that, I don't see a need to do much else.
JC: Yes. No reason to stop the positive momentum of the last couple months.
KH: Is that code for, "Should the team trade Michael Beasley?" Then yes. Other than that, there is not much more this team can do to improve the long-term trajectory of the franchises success.
RP: They should be more active in terms of pursuing trades (to send out veterans out for young talent or picks - especially Scola) but not necessarily in free agency.
SS: I don't think so, unless by active you mean trading Gortat and Scola for draft picks.
DK: Yes. Absolutely, in trades as I've said all along. Gortat and Scola should be traded for youth, and that youth needs to be the hard-working kind that new coach Hornacek can mold.
3. On the whole are you satisfied with the moves? Would you change anything?
JC: Yes. Would have handled the draft slightly different, but even that was still a win.
KH: Absolutely. They got younger, more athletic, and the team is in a position to evaluate the group to see what they have going forward. The one thing they did not address is perimeter shooting, but at this stage that is just nitpicking.
RP: I'm definitely satisfied, especially with the Dudley for Bledsoe deal. It's easy for me to say that I would have changed the players we picked in the draft but I trust McDonough (for now) so I'll just wait to see how they pan out.
SS: Very much so. Gaining Bledsoe and an $8 mil expiring contract in Butler for Dudley was great. Gives the Suns talent, youth, and options going forward
DK: We are all refreshing our twitter feeds (or this site) by the hour, so it seems like the Suns are working at a snail's pace. Yet, it's only July 8. The moratorium doesn't end for two days and Scola can't be dealt for another week (by CBA rule, a year from the amnesty waiver claim). The Suns will do something by end of month.
JP: Yes, I'm satisfied. Ryan McDonough has been aggressive and appears to be following an asset acquisition plan. Hopefully after next year we'll really start to see that plan playing out.
4. The team is basically at the cap; do you expect them to surpass it to acquire more talent?
KH: Shedding salary is a need, but not as urgently as for other teams. They are not strangled by a lot of bad contracts. In terms of productivity the Beasley contract is very bad, but it does not hurt their flexibility going forward.
RP: Not at all. Makes no sense for us to try and pay more to acquire talent in a season destined for many, many losses. I expect them to maybe sign a minimum contract and pursue trades.
SS: No, not at all. They aren't contending so no reason to at this point.
DK: As mentioned above, via trade. If the Suns can somehow dump Beasley on someone, all the better. It's imperative, in my opinion, to trade Beasley this summer.
JP: No. There's no need to. The roster is full already and the Suns are right at the cap. A multi-player trade that shakes up the roster is the only reason I can think of for making more moves and spending more money.
JC: I would like to see them make a move to shed some salary to maintain flexibility for deals at the deadline and heading into next year's draft.
5. Speaking of being at the cap, how do you grade the off-season so far?
RP: You know how much I value grades. That being said, I give the Bledsoe trade an A- and a TBD (after a few years) for the draft so I guess the final grade is an A-.
SS: "B+". We would all like to see Gortat moved for a 2014 1st, but if the opportunity isn't there yet then don't force it. The move we did make and although I personally wanted McLemore or Noel (if no red flag), our draft picks make a lot of sense overall and I trust their judgment.
DK: So far, I'd say a B+. The Suns have brought in youth - Bledsoe, Len, and Goodwin - while getting even more cap flexibility in coming years. Bledsoe would represent the first Suns player deserving of a rookie deal extension in seven years (Diaw/Barbosa in 2006).
JP: I'll continue the theme by handing out a B+.
KH: It was what the team needed. Encompassing the front office changes (Ryan McDonough and his staff), the coaching (Jeff Hornacek and his staff), and the moves made to the roster this has been a long coming in terms of change. It is still incomplete, but overall the team has made a lot of good moves and no great moves, a solid "B" seems appropriate.
6. BONUS: If you could play GM and make one sweeping move this off-season for the Suns what would it be?
SS: More like what I would have done. I would have strongly considered trading with Orlando to draft Oladipo...Depending on the cost. Otherwise, would have really tried for a Gortat/McCollum swap.
DK: Would find a taker for Scola and Beasley while bringing in more youth and/or cap flexibility. Scola needs to go to a winner, while Beasley just needs another fresh start to reach his potential.
JP: Bring back the Purple!
JC: Get to work on that whole Al McCoy in the ring of honor deal. That was a great fanpost and a great idea.
KH: More Harry and Harrison Gorilla!!! In all seriousness, the team just needs to stay the course. There is a difference between being idly inactive and being patient. The team is in a position to sit on their hands and be patient going forward... Golf claps around the office everyone.
RP: I would shop Scola very, very hard until I find a taker willing to give up their late pick (maybe even a second rounder) and/or young talent and/or an expiring contract. I wouldn't necessarily force a Gortat trade but I would entertain offers if any team is willing to surrender a first rounder or a young piece.