Woah, woah, woah.
Before we even think about asking questions like that, let's take a look at the facts. Although Marshall has been superb ever since stepping into the starting lineup of the injury-riddled team that calls the Staples Center home, it's too soon to make grandiose proclamations about the future.
It's more important to take a look back at Marshall's history and figure out how in the world we got to this point. Then—and only then—we can start breaking down what to expect from the left-handed assist-generating sensation.
Turn on your time machines and travel back with me. We're starting our journey in 2010, when Marshall was finishing up his high school career in Virginia.
Before Reaching the NBA
Marshall played for Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, and he was one of the top point guard recruits in the country when he was set to graduate in 2010.
Scout.com gave him four stars, listing him as the No. 9 floor general in the country behind a few players who have become prominent names and a couple that have faded away into oblivion:
- Kyrie Irving
- Josh Selby
- Brandon Knight
- Cory Joseph
- Ian Miller
- Ray McCallum
- Joe Jackson
- Ryan Harrow
- Kendall Marshall
- Trevor Releford
As has been the case throughout his career, Marshall's passing skills were viewed as a strength, and his shooting ability fell into the opposite end of the spectrum. He received plenty of attention from many major basketball schools, including Duke, Connecticut, Georgetown, Ohio State and Villanova, but ultimately he decided to join Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
It was a decision he wouldn't regret.
The southpaw thrived as a freshman while playing alongside a star-studded cast that featured Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson. During that first season in powder blue, Marshall averaged 6.2 points and 6.2 assists per game, leading the ACC in the dime trifecta: total assists, assists per game and assist percentage.
But he'd get even better as a sophomore, posting 8.1 points and 9.2 assists per contest. Not only did he complete the ACC dime trifecta again, he even led the entire NCAA in total assists.
There was no doubt he was an elite distributor, and his value was shown via subtraction when a broken wrist kept him out of the later rounds of 2012 March Madness. After he posted 18 points and 11 assists in a second-round victory over Creighton, he missed the rest of the tournament, and his team struggled.
North Carolina pulled out an eight-point victory over Ohio in the third round, but Barnes struggled tremendously. It was abundantly clear just how valuable Marshall was, especially for a player like the small forward, who needed help creating shots.
The team struggled once more the next round, and No. 2-seeded Kansas was too much to overcome. That was the end of the season, and it marked the close of Marshall's collegiate career.
Even heading into the draft, the point guard was well aware of the primary knocks on his game. He revealed as much in an interview with DraftExpress' Joseph Treutlein:
I definitely want to become a consistent, knockdown shooter. The last thing I want to be is a liability for any team I'm playing for. I feel like I'm blessed with a gift of getting my teammates involved, but that's not going to matter if guys are defending 10 or 15 feet off of me. And also, working on my body and becoming more flexible—I think that will help me become quicker on defense. You know, being able to keep guys like Tywon [Lawson],Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook, these highly explosive guards—I'm not trying to shut them down, but I want to be able to contain them and do a good job staying in front of them.
Shooting and defense.
Marshall nailed it, and that was what just about every scouting report read.
Despite the weaknesses, Marshall was generally viewed as a fringe lottery candidate heading into the 2012 NBA draft. You can see that via D/X's mock draft history for the UNC standout, which had him at No. 16 heading into the selection process.
He'd end up being selected by the Phoenix Suns at No. 13, and thus began the NBA portion of his career.
Pre-Lakers NBA Journey
The reviews weren't very positive for Phoenix, especially since the Marshall selection was their only pick of the draft. Let's turn to three prominent basketball writers for their thoughts.
Chad Ford of ESPN (subscription required), who handed a "C" to the Suns:
I think Marshall will be a solid NBA player. He might be the best passer in the draft, but his lack of lateral quickness might limit him to role player duty in the pros. If Steve Nash stays, he'll be a nice backup. If he leaves, the Suns will still need to find a starting point guard on the free-agent market.
Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick gave Phoenix a "B-" for their efforts:
You play the hand you're dealt, and a team looking for serious wing scorers saw them all—Dion Waiters, Washington shooting guard Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lamb—taken by the time it was on the clock. Thus, you have the selection of pass-first point guard Kendall Marshall at No. 13. But as much as this is a somewhat underwhelming pick for a team so desperate for explosive talent, Marshall was the best fit if Phoenix is going to continue with any semblance of its previous program. We should know soon enough whether Marshall is taking over said program pretty quickly or learning under free agent Steve Nash.
Doling out a "B," Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer was the most generous:
The Suns were the first—or, depending on how you judge a few other squads, the only—team to pick for need. Marshall is a pass-first sort of dude with a lot to work on, and it's possible he might be asked to work in Steve Nash's place sooner than the kid ever could have expected. Marshall's long arms and loping style remind me a bit of Mike Conley, even if his game never will (for reasons good and bad).
Not exactly glowing remarks.
Fortunately for these analysts, Marshall would quickly prove them correct. He failed to make any sort of impact during his rookie season in the desert, averaging 3.0 points and 3.0 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from the field.
Not only did the Suns—remember, a reeling team at the time—allow 4.5 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but according to Basketball-Reference, they also scored 3.5 fewer. That's not exactly a good combination, and it shouldn't be at all surprising that B/R's Josh Martin retroactively gave the Suns a "C-" one year after making the pick.
That would be the end of Marshall's career in Phoenix.
Right before the start of the 2013-14 season, he was included in the trade that sent Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards, and his new team waived him only three days later.
From there, it was on to the D-League.
He'd already spent a little time in the minor leagues, playing with the Bakersfield Jam during the 2012-13 season. But this time, Marshall suited up for the Delaware 87ers and debuted against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers with a sensational line: 31 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, leaving him just a single board shy of the vaunted triple-double.
He'd spend seven games with the team, averaging 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists per game, according to NBA.com's statistical databases. Most impressively, he hit 46.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, lending credence to the notion that he'd improved his jumper rather significantly.
And that's when he got a call from the decimated Lakers.
With the Lakers
When B/R's Jonathan Wasserman wrote about what Marshall brought to the injury-riddled Lake Show, his lede was absolutely perfect: "I'll tell you what Kendall Marshall brings to the table—a functioning body with all of his limbs and ligaments intact."
After the Lakers lost Steve Nash (nerve problems in his back), Jordan Farmar (hamstring issues) and Steve Blake (torn UCL), all that was needed was a healthy point guard. That was literally it, especially once Kobe Bryant was lost again.
The lefty debuted against the Golden State Warriors, recording three points and four turnovers in the loss. It took him two more games to carve out a larger role, but then he exploded during his first start. Against the Utah Jazz, Marshall steered the Purple and Gold to a win with 20 points, six rebounds and 15 assists, numbers that have only been matched or exceeded by Kobe and Magic Johnson throughout all of L.A. history.
He hasn't just fallen back down to Earth since then, either.
In his first three starts, Marshall averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 12.7 assists per contest, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond the arc.
If that last number looks familiar to you, it should. It's nearly identical to what he shot in the D-League, indicating that his jump shooting might not be so fluky. But is anything else?
The overall numbers are certainly going to decline.
That's a given, as Marshall isn't the next coming of Magic. At best, he'll settle in as an above-average starting point guard who only generates any All-Star buzz because Los Angeles falls in love with him and floods the voting booths. At worst, he'll become a solid backup.
This much is clear now that we've seen what he can do when unleashed with no fear of being benched. Going to work with no viable alternatives is a nice confidence boost; a player doesn't feel the need to look over his shoulder and peer at the bench each time he makes a mistake.
Marshall is a fantastic passer with great court vision. He might not be the most athletic player in the NBA—far from it—but he can move well enough to see openings and squeeze the ball into them.
That's undoubtedly his primary asset, but he's also a solid rebounder from the 1. The scoring isn't sustainable, and it's the key to his success. If his jumper fails to remain consistent, teams will begin sagging off and closing down the already-narrow passing routes that are being presented to him.
For example, Marshall is driving to the basket 4.6 times per game, according to NBA.com's SportVU data. He's making 100 percent of his attempts. Literally 100 percent. He hasn't missed once.
To put that in perspective, 52 players are driving more frequently. Of that group, LeBron James has the best conversion rate, checking in at 62.8 percent. Eric Bledsoe (57.1) is in second place, and only 14 more players are making more shots than they miss.
Marshall's percentage is not going to remain nearly that high, and the decline will result in lowered overall effectiveness. Again, his game relies on his scoring drawing away enough of the defensive pressure that he can feed the ball to his teammates for open shots.
The assist numbers are fluky as well.
SportVU shows that the southpaw is averaging 11.6 assist opportunities per game, and he's turning those into 6.9 dimes each contest. That's a conversion rate of 59.5 percent. Now, compare that to some of the top passers in the NBA:
- Chris Paul, 53.6 percent
- Stephen Curry, 56.5 percent
- John Wall, 48.6 percent
- Ty Lawson, 46.7 percent
- Ricky Rubio, 50.9 percent
In fact, of the 22 players in the Association dropping at least six dimes per contest, not a single player has a higher conversion rate than Marshall.
Anyone think that's sustainable?
Especially on a team that isn't filled with superb offensive players, it's tough to believe that Marshall is that good at generating makable opportunities for his teammates. Even gifted as he is at passing, that's just too ridiculous a rate to be realistic.
And that's just a microcosm of the overall trend for Marshall.
His breakout for the Lakers—albeit one that has come with an extremely small sample size—is undoubtedly a positive development. It's nice to see a player overcoming the odds and hardships he endured during his first year of professional basketball.
But don't get carried away just yet.
Maybe his scouting report will change, just as it's done many times over his career. But right now, it doesn't point toward stardom, just a starting gig.