There’s no getting around it – the Lakers have been hard to watch this season. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and probably every other player on the team you may be familiar with have missed substantial time due to injury. Magic Johnson, one of the greatest Lakers ever, has openly questioned the ability of owners Jim and Jeanie Buss, as well as coach Mike D’Antoni, to get the Lakers back on track. They’re well on their way to breaking the franchise record of 53 losses in a season (as of 3/16 the Lakers are 22-44). And it certainly doesn’t help that they share an arena with the insanely watchable Lob City Clippers.
Despite all the hardships Lakers fans have endured this season, one bright spot has been second year point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall had a successful two year career at the University of North Carolina, and was praised by coach Roy Williams as the best passer he’s ever coached. Expectations were high when Marshall was drafted with the 13th pick by the Phoenix Suns. Marshall struggled during his one season in the desert, shooting below 40 percent from the field and only 32 percent from long range in limited minutes. The Suns abruptly sent him to the Wizards in a trade, who cut him immediately. All of a sudden, Marshall was on the brink of falling out of the league one year after being a lottery pick.
After a successful D-League stint with the Delaware 87ers (**fun fact – Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution in 1787**), Marshall caught on with an injury depleted Laker squad. Marshall drew the start at point guard in just his fifth game with the team, and he responded by lighting up the Utah Jazz to the tune of 20 points, 15 assists and six rebounds.
Just in case that wasn’t enough to impress you, he followed that performance up with 17 assists the following night and a whopping 116 assists in a ten game stretch. He’s also showed improved shooting touch, a knock on him coming out of UNC, shooting 41 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep. The fact that Marshall’s shooting percentages are improving on a much higher volume of attempts compared to his rookie year indicates that his development as a scorer is legitimate. He should continue to grow as defenders realize they have to respect his ability to create for teammates. I would certainly expect his interior shooting percentages to improve as he becomes more comfortable playing off the pick and roll and adjusting to NBA defensive schemes.
A look at the advanced passing statistics illuminate how important Marshall has been to keeping the Lakers offense afloat. No player in the league creates more points for his teammates per 48 minutes…not even the starting point guard for that other team in Los Angeles. Combine that with his modest 8.4 points per game this season, and Marshall is accounting for over 40 percent of the Lakers scoring!
What makes this even more impressive is the cast of characters surrounding Marshall. An over-the-hill Pau “Neck Beard” Gasol, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Jodie Meeks and Ryan “Neck Beard Jr.” Kelly are hardly players that strike fear in the hearts of NBA defenses. But Marshall is executing the offensive system and putting his teammates in a position to succeed with crisp, imaginative passes that create open looks. For reference, Chris Paul’s surrounding cast is a dream compared to Marshall’s and he’s creating 0.1 less points per game via assist for the Clippers.
As the Lakers’ higher paid guards have returned to health, Marshall has seen his minutes decline, yet he continues to put up eye popping assist numbers (14 in 27 minutes against the Nuggets, 10 in 27 minutes against the Thunder). With Steve Nash’s corpse and Jordan Farmar under contract in 2014-2015, Marshall’s future with the Lakers is uncertain.
Given what I’ve seen from Marshall this year, I believe he will be successful wherever he lands. Players like playing with players who share the ball, create easy looks and make the game fun. Marshall does just that.
Note – all stats as of 3/16