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.
Before we fully realized he was here, he was gone.
Josh Childress, one of the first players signed by the new regime of Suns front office brass, was amnestied by the same group of men who brought him in after two seasons of limited playing time and a lack of a clear-cut role.
Upon his return from a two-year stint in Europe, the former Hawks' Sixth Man of the Year candidate returned and came to Phoenix on a five-year, $33.5 million sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta. The signing was perhaps to shore up the Suns' bench with a proven defender with a high basketball IQ — or in other words, a Shawn Marion-lite.
Unfortunately for both Childress and the Suns, it didn't work out that way.
To many, the move didn't make much sense — and perhaps rightfully so — but Josh Childress is one of most quietly professional athletes in this league, and he should be rightfully recognized as such.
But enough of the backstory. Before we begin, I should let you know that this is more than just a farewell. This is the story of how a benchwarmer burrowed his way into the heart of a reporter — perhaps for good.
The sun may have already set in Phoenix for Josh Childress, but for this reporter, he won't be forgotten.
We'll start from the beginning. I've been a fan of basketball since the ripe old age of six, when the Suns were giving their best to try and pry an NBA title from Jordan's Bulls. When KJ, Thunder Dan and Charles Barkley were among the most impersonated players on the playground courts of my elementary school. When being a basketball fan in Phoenix was something you could be proud of.
Naturally, because my obsession with the sport started at such a young age, I needed more to satiate my hunger for the game, especially as I got older. I began to follow the Arizona State Sun Devils, only to begin to hate the Arizona Wildcats for being so much better than my hometown team. I started watching NBA games of teams I had never heard of, and started hating other teams who "stole" players from my beloved Suns. (Sorry, Houston and Miami. I know it's not your fault, but I can't stand you. For totally and completely childish reasons.)
In my high school years, I began to follow Pac-10 basketball more closely as my interest in the sport continued to grow. It was during this time when Josh Childress first caught my eye at Stanford. I won't lie to you and tell you I've been a fan ever since. Instead, the name simply became a bit more familiar to me.
After his first few years in the league, Childress' name began to gain a bit more traction in the league. Perhaps it was the throwback hairstyle — his signature 'fro — or the fact that he had become one of the better bench players in the league. Then, just when the interest in Childress began to reach its peak, he bolted to Greece to play with the Euroleague club Olimpiacos Piraeus.
Two years later, after he had been largely forgotten by the NBA community, he returned and the Suns announced their plans to sign him. As a reporter, I was able to attend his introductory press conference and listen to his plans for the future as a member of the team and what he learned abroad.
It might be because this press conference was the first of this nature that I attended, but I instantly felt that Childress would become a regular part of the team I've rooted for since I was young.
However, in the first few months of the 2010-11 season, Childress' presence on the court wasn't exactly overwhelming. The doubters that called the signing a mistake because of his shooting deficiencies were sitting high and mighty on their throne. Still, Childress remained a consummate professional. Despite his playing time, he was still one of the most noticeably energetic players on the court when he got the time. He gave his all for his team, regardless of how many minutes he actually saw real game time.
It was at this point when I began to gain a true respect for Childress. He seemed to be the complete opposite of the superstar diva mentality the league has grown accustomed to over the past decade. I even asserted myself as the pseudo-leader of the #FreeChilly movement on various social media platforms.
As a side note in my Chilly fandom journey, the Suns had a promotion at a O'Reilly Auto Parts in Gilbert, Ariz., where I won a shooting contest and was given the choice between receiving an autograhped Childress or an autographed Hedo Turkoglu jersey. The choice was simple.
But I digress.
After a disappointing 2010-11 campaign that saw the Suns mired in mediocrity, the door seemed to open a bit for the then 28-year-old swingman. In a season where the Suns' true identity seemed to be in question, there was a glimpse of hope for more playing time for Childress.
Instead, we saw more of the same.
Still, Childress remained upbeat. His overall impact on the game may have been slight, but it was the energy he brought to the court night in and night out that made me truly respect the man.
Even upon hearing news of his departure, he tweeted, "Thank you to the Phoenix Suns organization, my teammates and the great fans. I appreciate everything. God Bless!"
While the #FreeChilly movement had seemed to reach its end — albeit not in the way I nor anyone else intended — there is still plenty to take away from "The Childress Era," though no one will remember it as such. We learned that there are still athletes who don't need the spotlight to contribute. We saw a man who had hopes of consistent playing time ride the pine — and still continue to support his teammates in any way possible.
So, I beckon you to raise your glass to a player you may not have rooted for, but who deserves every ounce of respect you have.
Chilly, this one's for you.