Kentucky power forward Anthony Davis, who is quite possibly the best NBA draft prospect since LeBron James went No. 1 overall in 2003, stands out far above the rest of the 2012 draft class as its best prospect.
Davis’ collegiate teammate, Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, should be the second-best player from the draft class, but outside of those top two talents, there may not be a better player to emerge from Thursday’s draft than North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall.
Marshall is unlikely to be a lottery selection, and will likely be only the fourth player taken from his own college team. As of the time of publication, ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford projects Marshall to be selected as the No. 20 overall pick by the Denver Nuggets, behind his former Tar Heels teammates Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Dan Favale has Marshall being selected 17th by the Dallas Mavericks, while Draft Express projects him to be the 18th selection by the Utah Jazz, but both also project him to be the fourth UNC player drafted.
Marshall is projected to fall out of the lottery because he is neither an explosive athlete nor a great scorer. This makes sense, but Marshall can do just about everything else an NBA team should want from its point guard.
From the first game Marshall plays in the league, he should emerge as one of the league’s best passers. Marshall has tremendous court vision, and passes the basketball with as much flair and precision as I have ever seen before from a college point guard.
Marshall can make any pass on the basketball court, from a simple bounce pass to a full-court lob. He can throw passes with perfect accuracy on the run, and completes challenging passes into tight windows that few collegiate point guards would attempt.
Marshall was surrounded by players who were better athletes and better scorers at UNC, but that made him the perfect fit for the Tar Heels’ lineup for the past two seasons. Marshall is a floor general who takes on a natural on-court leadership role, and with his vision and passing accuracy, he is frequently able to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Marshall ranked second nationally last season with 9.7 assists per game, a full 1.7 assists above the third-best rate last season. On the contrary, Marshall had 2.8 turnovers per game last season, but the majority of his turnovers were not careless mistakes, but a result of the aggressive chances he takes as a passer.
Passing and court vision are Marshall’s best traits, but he is also a smooth defender and a skilled ball-handler. He is a pure, traditional point guard, and he has ideal height for the position at 6’4’’.
Marshall’s importance to the Tar Heels truly came into display when he was not on the court during the 2012 NCAA tournament. Marshall got off to a great start in UNC’s tournament run: he had 11 points and 10 assists in the team’s opener versus Vermont, and did even better against Creighton with 18 points and 11 assists.
Unfortunately, Marshall fractured his wrist late in the Creighton game, and was unable to play in the following weekend’s games. Without Marshall, the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels were taken to overtime by Ohio, a No. 13 seed, then lost to eventual NCAA runner-up Kansas by 13 points in the Elite Eight.
Ford, Favale and Draft Express all project Marshall to be the second point guard selected, behind Damian Lillard from little-known Weber State. Admittedly, I have seen very little of Lillard’s play, but he is a different player than Marshall, known more for his scoring than his passing. Lillard ranked second nationally last season with 24.5 points per game.
Plenty of point guards like John Stockton and Steve Nash, players known for their passing and defense rather than explosive athleticism and scoring skills, have had great success in the NBA.
When it comes to the NBA draft, however, teams tend to look for running backs more than quarterbacks at the point guard position, coveting elite athletes who create scoring opportunities for themselves.
Nonetheless, if the actual NBA teams stay in line with the draft experts and allow Marshall to pass through the lottery, I believe they are making a mistake. Marshall should be one of the safest picks in the NBA draft; his upside is limited, but he would be a great fit for a team that already has talented scorers and athletes, as he can be a tremendous leader, manager and playmaker.
Davis could be an All-Star as early as his rookie season, but if I were to project the second player out of this class to make an All-Star Game, my bet would be on Marshall, who appears set to be a steal in the middle of Round 1.
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