Marshall was signed out of the D-League in late December after the Lakers found themselves in a hole. The entire point guard platoon of Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar had been shelved due to injury and was soon followed by Kobe Bryant and Xavier Henry.
And then came the crazy month of January, as the 22-year-old point guard with an old-fashioned set shot averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists through 15 games. He also connected at the unlikely rate of .441 from behind the arc. The last Laker to put up those kinds of assists was Magic Johnson during the Showtime era.
Kendall Marshall is going to inspire a generation of Los Angelinos to take up the set shot— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersBlog_SSR) January 6, 2014
Marshall may never again experience those kind of stats in the NBA. And then again, he might.
It looked as if the brief reign of an improbable hero was over when Nash, Blake and Farmar all got better at the same time. Per Dave McMenamin from ESPN Los Angeles, Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni admitted that things would soon be different for the young guard:
Whether he starts or whether he doesn't, he'll have to [get used to the fact that] it won't be the same. He's not going to get 35 minutes no matter what he does. So, that's how the NBA is and he'll have to keep carving his niche out. He's played well, so he's got to continue that.
What happened next was thoroughly predictable during this snake-bitten season.
In short order, Nash’s nerve root irritation began surfacing again, Farmar reaggravated his hamstring and Blake, while he hasn’t missed any games since returning, has been banged up with a ruptured eardrum and elbow discomfort.
As for Marshall, he just kept motoring along, averaging 9.7 points and 9.2 assists in reduced minutes during the month of February, leading up to the All-Star break.
There was genuine hype surrounding Marshall when he declared for the draft after his sophomore year at North Carolina in 2012. Called “the best passer I’ve ever coached in 24 years as a head coach” by UNC's Roy Williams in a DraftExpress report, Marshall was selected as the 13th overall pick by the Phoenix Suns.
Marshall never caught on in Phoenix, however, averaging just three points per game in his rookie season. As part of the trade that sent Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards at the start of this season, Marshall was waived and found himself out of the NBA.
Like so many other draft busts, the 6’4” guard began a D-League journey, playing for the Delaware 87ers, staying in cheap motels and earning a whole lot less than he did as a rookie in the NBA.
Marshall doesn’t have a true jump shot, has suspect footwork and no blow-by speed whatsoever. What he does have is excellent court vision, a high basketball IQ, superlative passing skills and surprising accuracy from long range.
The Lakers had the foresight to sign Marshall to a multiyear minimum-salary contract in December—an important step in the team’s cost-conscious rebuild plan. The only other Laker point guard under contract for next season is Nash, whose frailty has become ever more obvious.
With a record of 18-35, the Lakers appear to be heading toward prime lottery territory in the 2014 NBA draft. They could find themselves selecting a potential point guard star like Dante Exum from Australia, and they could just as easily choose the best pick available when it comes their turn regardless of position.
Whatever happens in the draft, Los Angeles will still need depth at the point, and Marshall provides that. There was understandable skepticism that a second-year pro with minimal experience could continue to flourish against the top point guards in the NBA, but here he is, 25 games in and still averaging 10.3 points and 9.5 assists.
During the Lakers’ most recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder before the All-Star break, Marshall was once again thrust into a starting role, notching 14 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds and a steal in 44 minutes. The 17 assists matched the career high that he set on January 5 against the Denver Nuggets.
In the "auditioning for next season" department, Kendall Marshall always looks good. Has 14 points, 17 assists and 7 rebounds tonight.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) February 14, 2014
What does the future hold for Marshall? Barring the kind of calamity that’s become commonplace with the Lakers, he’ll at least have a job come next season. Hopefully, he’ll learn to get a higher trajectory on his shot over the summer—something that eluded him during his time with the Suns. It would also be nice to see him work on his lateral quickness.
Marshall is well aware of his perceived limitations. Per Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, the point guard with the uneven career trajectory says he’s kept a list on his phone of all the things he supposedly can’t do:
"They say you can't shoot, they say you're too slow, they say you can't defend.”
Marshall recites the list to himself daily, as a means to motivation. His game plan hasn’t gone exactly according to plan since being selected by the Suns in the 2012 draft. At that point, Phoenix thought it might be getting a guy who could replace Steve Nash.
As it turns out, Marshall seems to be replacing Nash in Los Angeles instead. If he keeps working hard, he’ll find himself part of a long-term plan, not a short-term fix.