What do Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, Earl Clark and Xavier Henry all have in common? They are all talented first round draft picks that didn't pan out with their original teams and then came to the Lakers on cheap contracts or affordable trades, only to produce career bests for the team.
All of them are different and in more ways than one; playing style varies greatly between all of them and it makes pinpointing exactly why they had their breakthroughs with the team difficult. Nonetheless, all of them had a resurgence with the Lakers and Kendall Marshall has been the best of the bunch, through this admittedly very small sample size. First, let's remind ourselves what Marshall has done with his three starts: he burst onto the scene with a ridiculous 20 points, 15 assists and 6 rebounds against the Utah Jazz, becoming only the 2nd Laker ever to go for 10+ points and 10+ assists in his first start, as well as becoming the 2nd Laker to finish with 20 points, 15 assists and shoot over 65% in a game since Magic Johnson. His second game against the Denver Nuggets was a slower one; Marshall struggled from the field, shooting 3 for 10 and only scored 9 points, however he had an outstanding 17 assists in that game and looked like he thoroughly understood the offensive game plan. In last night's game, Marshall had some trouble with turnovers, racking up 6 of them to offset his 6 assists, but he did score 18 points on 7-10 shooting. Overall, Marshall is averaging 15.6 points, 12.6 assists and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 56.2% from the field and has a very good 19.5 PER, which would be 2nd on the team to Jordan Hill if he were to qualify.
So, where did Marshall come from? Drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 2012 NBA Draft (13th overall), Marshall had an outstanding college career with the University of North Carolina, even going on to win the Bob Cousy award for best point guard at the college level in his final season as a Tar Heel. Marshall struggled immensely in 48 games with the Suns last season, registering a horrid -0.012 WS/48 and was worth a -0.2 total Win Share to go along with a horrid 7.8 PER. Marshall didn't shoot well from anywhere, shooting only 37% from the field (31% from three point range) and registering a Dwight Howard-like 57% from the free throw line. Of course, Marshall did so under only 14 minutes a game, which makes hard to gauge whether or not he was NBA ready. The Suns ultimately decided he wasn't and traded him to the Washington Wizards, along side Marcin Gortat and old friend Shannon Brown. The Wizards immediately waived Marshall, who then went on to average 19 points and 10 assists with the 76ers D-league affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.
Of course, the Lakers backcourt went down in a heap of nerve damage, muscle tears and broken bones that led to the Lakers signing Marshall to a minimum contract. I am glad they did because Marshall is clearly talented; he's a taller point guard, coming in at 6'4'', and has some of the better court vision in the league; Marshall had a solid grasp of how an NBA point guard is supposed to play and tries his best to emulate it. His passing ability has improved since college and his timing appears to now be on par with most above average NBA point guards. Marshall also appears to have greatly improved his shooting stroke; he's shooting 47% from downtown and 100% from the charity stripe. His basketball I.Q. is very high; he knows which players to feed at the correct time and at the correct area of the floor.
So, why did Phoenix and Washington give up on him? Well, the knock on Marshall was his mediocre defense, relatively slow movement out of a point guard and his below average shooting stroke. Marshall looked overwhelmed in his first season and not cut out to handle the NBA game. I insist that Marshall is talented, but is he this good? I don't think so, though Mike D'Antoni runs a system reliant on a good passing point guard, so Marshall is indeed playing to his strengths. Ultimately, I believe Marshall will come down to Earth, but still be a solid guard in the rotation; his contract makes him extremely team friendly and hopefully, the team can retain him for next season as well. You know what they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure.