General Thoughts on the Season
If I would have told you before the season started that a Lakers’ point guard would be 2nd in the league in assists, you’d have thought “wow, Steve Nash really came back well from his injury, huh?” or even “man, Steve Blake really is thriving under Mike D’Antoni!” right? And if I’d have told you, nope, Kendall Marshall was the guy who racked up all those dimes your response would have been “who?”.
And really, that’s the story of Kendall Marshall’s season with the Lakers.
The 2nd year point guard really did come out of nowhere to be a key rotation player for this team. Called up from the D-League after the Lakers had another horrific injury run to their point guards, Marshall instantly showed that his pass first (and second and third) approach was a perfect match for Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick and roll attack. This offense needed a playmaker at the point and Marshall provided just that, hitting teammates with passes right into their shooting pockets and scoring just enough to keep defenses honest.
Like any young player, Marshall had his ups and downs. After making his debut he proved to be a viable lead guard and put up some eye popping stats while playing heavy minutes only to struggle severely as a scorer and become turnover prone late in the year. Overall, however, it’s hard to see his campaign as anything but a success. After all, how many guys go from D-League obscurity to racking up double digit assist games as starting point guard for the Lakers?
As the shot chart above shows, Marshall’s biggest strength isn’t shooting the ball. Yes, his three point percentage was nearly 40% and he showed the ability to stretch the floor as a spot up shooter when defenses sagged down to help in the post or closed out with hesitation so he would not get into the lane where he could better create shots for others. But from mid-range and in the paint, Marshall simply was not a great finisher — especially in traffic. If there’s one area where he really needs to grow his game it’s as a scorer, specifically when he gets a step on his defender but meets help in the lane. Developing a runner or a floater would do wonders for his scoring efficiency and open up his passing even more.
That last point is actually a bit scary to think about considering how well Marshall created shots for others and set them up for easy scores. Despite facing defenses that often did not respect his ability to score while playing him for the pass, Marshall averaged 8.8 assists per game which was good for 2nd in the league behind Chris Paul. Marshall’s ability to not only see the floor and pick out the open man, but to throw passes that were on time and on target was fantastic all season and really helped create a better offensive flow when he was in the game.
While his offensive contributions were key to the success the Lakers did have this season, his defense was also a reason for the team’s struggles. Though he possesses good size, Marshall isn’t exactly a stellar athlete. And on defense his lack of foot speed and lateral agility made it tough for him to guard many of his point guard counterparts. This often left the Lakers putting Marshall on opponents’ weakest offensive players and exposing their other perimeter players to match ups that they weren’t quite comfortable with. Further, all too often Marshall simply seemed disinterested with battling defensively and doing the dirty work that is required of players of his ilk; players who cannot rely on physical gifts to defend well. Marshall often didn’t bump cutters, would lose connectivity with his man when defending off the ball, and didn’t help the helper with physicality when having to battle big men on the glass. Overall, he simply didn’t show the same awareness or willingness defensively as he did on the other side of the ball.
Most Memorable Moment
Rather than pick out a single moment, here is a compilation of Marshall’s highlights from the year. While there were certain games that stood out that deserve mention, for me this season was more about Marshall’s total body of work and showing that, offensively, he really can run and offense and be a high level playmaker.
Overall Grade and Summary
While I would love to go higher, I can’t really give Marshall any better than a B on the season. His passing and instincts for playmaking were top flight, but his inconsistency as a shooter and scorer combined with his struggles defensively left me wanting more. That said, the fact that he came from the D-League to play heavy minutes and put up some amazing stat lines over the course of the year deserve heavy praise. Marshall was essentially staring at his NBA mortality in the face and fought to show that he really does belong in this league. And while I’m not completely sold that his ceiling is any higher than a back up on a good team, there is always a place for a guy who has instincts and floor general skills like he has.