Kendall Marshall seems to be fitting in well as one of the many new faces on this year's Phoenix Suns. Despite distractions like Luis Scola flicking his ear or Jared Dudley patting his head as they walked past, Marshall was happy to tell BSotS and SBNation AZ reporters how he has improved since his professional debut in the NBA Summer League.
"Since Summer League, I'd say the main thing I improved on is just the feel for the game, understanding the flow of the game at the NBA level compared to the college level, as well as realizing that I have to be more aggressive," Marshall said.
Marshall hasn't seen anything yet. He's in the middle of a slow ramp up in both talent and speed of the game. College to NBA Summer League to NBA-level pickup games to training camp is one trajectory. Camp to preseason to regular season (and maybe playoffs) is quite another. But a rookie can't know this until they experience it.
Coming into the season, Marshall faces his fair share of competition for minutes. Instead of being overconfident or demanding, the former Tar Heel is relishing the opportunity to work with the two veteran point guards, Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair.
"It's been great for me, personally, to go against two vets of the league every day," remarked Marshall in reference to weeks of pick-up games on the Suns practice court. "They kind of set the bar for me."
Goran Dragic's turned ankle may have been a blessing in disguise for Marshall. He got a lot more minutes in camp with first- and second-teamers than he might have seen otherwise. Training camp culminates today with a camp-closing intrasquad scrimmage.
The transition for Marshall is certainly taking some time, as the rookie is learning to be more aggressive in regards to scoring. We know that the scouts rave about his elite court vision and his ability to find open teammates, but he was never relied upon to score on a team that contained several NBA-level scoring threats, arguably better scoring threats than the Suns possess.
"They (the coaching staff and his teammates) get mad at me now for not shooting the ball, so it's an adjustment," mentioned Marshall. "But if I want to be successful in the NBA and help this team, it's an adjustment I have to make."
While many writers and pundits are not sold on the new look Phoenix Suns yet, Marshall is maintaining confidence in the team.
"I'm motivated just to get better and being that it's my first year, I don't know what to expect," Marshall said. "On paper, I feel like we have a chance to be a pretty good team. I guess only time will tell.
Marshall's teammates definitely don't let him forget who he is, from making him wear a Justin Bieber backpack ("I'm gonna own it. I'll wear it so much they beg me to take it off.") to picking up Michael Beasley's shampoo and lotion at Bath and Body Works to getting them desserts and snacks on demand.
With the Phoenix Suns roster already very near capacity, having 12 players already signed to a contract, there is very little space for any new additions. NBA teams must sign a minimum of 13 players, and a maximum of 15 players by the start of the season. However, the Suns have elected to carry only the minimum of 13 players on their roster over the last several years. If this trend continues, then only one of the five players who were invited to training camp (Ike Diogu, Diante Garrett, Othyus Jeffers, Solomon Jones, and Luke Zeller) will be signed to the actual roster.
One of the more likely of the five to win that spot is former Arizona State University stand-out Ike Diogu. Diogu averaged an impressive 21.4 points and 8.8 rebounds during his three-years at ASU, and was originally drafted 9th overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2005 NBA Draft.
Diogu is a 29 year old 6'8", 250lb power forward who has bounced around between seven different teams in his six year NBA career. Although his height at 6'8" is considered a little small for an NBA power forward, his 7'3.5" wingspan and strength helps him compensate.
Here is a look at his stats during his NBA career thus far:
As you can see, Diogu has never made a major impact for any team in his six year NBA career. However, he has never really received an abundance of minutes either, and his "Per 36" stats tell a slightly different story:
With the exception of his two-game stint with San Antonio last season, Diogu has been fairly productive in his limited minutes. Not only that, but Diogu was very impressive this summer while playing for the Nigerian Olympic team averaging 14.8 points and 9 rebounds per game, which definitely caught the attention of many NBA teams...including the Suns.
Kris Habbas of SB Nation Arizona conducted an interview with Ike Diogu about coming back to Arizona, his play for the Nigerian Olympic team, as well as what he expects this summer during Suns' training camp:
For those of you who aren't familiar with Diogu as a player and would like to see him in action...well...as you might expect, there just aren't many recent highlight videos for a guy who's been a journeyman in the league for six seasons. However, here is one that was made after his rookie season in Golden State if you would like to get a little taste of Diogu's game:
Odds are that Ike Diogu has a very good chance of making the roster as the Suns' 13th man. He is an experienced, long & strong player who can bang down low and contribute if called upon to do so. Ultimately, it will all come down to how well he plays in training camp and during the pre-season, as well as how he gels with his teammates. However, with Channing Frye out for the season and the Suns still in need of more big men who can score in the post and guard the paint, he certainly seems like a good fit.
Training camps in sports all have their own rituals. One thing common to all, however, is the inevitable optimism which is often expressed in the form of players proclaiming their improved physical prowess. The Phoenix Suns are no exception and in this case, it's center Marcin Gortat bragging about his...self.
"I'm 100 percent sure I've become a better player and hopefully I show it this season," Gortat said. "I'm in incredible shape. I'm definitely missing a few pounds because I didn't have enough time to get in the weight room. But we've got the new nickname 'Polish Gazelle.' Trust me, I can outrun everybody, even point guards."
You go, big feller! I'm 100 percent sure that we will hear all about how great Marcin is feeling until such time as he's not feeling 100 percent and then we'll probably not hear about that. It's the cycle of life (kind of).