Short-term answers sometimes provide long-term solutions.
The Los Angeles Lakers have spent decades chasing "sure things." Energy has been devoted to paying superstars in pursuit of trophies. Nothing less.
Out of necessity, the Lakers have shifted gears, fielding the nameless and trusting the unproven. And though it hasn't resulted in many wins, silver linings exist.
In Kendall Marshall's point-guard play, they exist. And they are blinding.
There have been quite a few hiccups along the way, but his success dwarfs any mistakes. Initially cast aside by the Phoenix Suns, the former lottery pick has found a home in coach Mike D'Antoni's the-ball-will-find-energy offense.
A stable, lasting home.
Numbers Never Lie
Truth, both good and bad, is found in numbers.
Marshall's turnover issues are alarming. He can be thoughtless and infuriating with his on-ball decisions at times; his 3.1 turnovers per game are just the beginning.
Of all players averaging at least 30 minutes a night, Marshall's turnover percentage (26.0) is the highest. No one else is even close; Ricky Rubio checks in at second, 3.5 percentage points below Marshall (22.5).
But that's the risk you run in D'Antoni's fast-paced offense. The Lakers rank third in pace, and with more possessions come additional mistakes.
Fourteen games is also an awfully small sample size. Over time, with more experience, Marshall's on-ball decision making and ball-protection can and should improve.
But say they don't. Say he's fated to continue coughing the ball up at an eye-popping rate. Even then, he's still the answer at point guard for these struggling and transitioning Lakers.
When he's on the floor, their offense, crippled as it is by absences, is clicking—firing on all cylinders, the proof of which is in the pudding, or numbers:
|Lakers Offense...||FG%||3P%||TO/AST Ratio||Off. Rtg.||Net Rtg.|
Los Angeles' overall offensive rating ranks 22nd in the NBA. When Marshall is on the bench, it drops to 92.5, the equivalent of dead last; when he's on the floor, it equates to eighth (106.4). That's huge—a 22-spot uptick, in fact.
Even the Lakers' assist-to-turnover ratio is better when Marshall is on the floor, making his questionable passes and decisions a necessary evil at worst. And we should overlook those ball-protection issues when he's putting up such gaudy numbers as a starter.
|Role||MPG||PTS||REBS||ASTS||TOs||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.|
The number of turnovers he's committing actually isn't that bad when you consider how many assists he's handing out per game. Only Chris Paul (11.2) and Stephen Curry (9.2) are dishing out more assists. And only Paul is posting a higher assist percentage (54.1).
When you have a guy who's notching a near double-double every night in points and assists, the more-than-occasional mistake is something you have to live with and hope improves.
It's something the Lakers will gladly live with now, and something they should just as readily live with moving forward.
Fitting the Mold
Running with Marshall beyond this season is more than just a statistically sound decision—it's a veritable no-brainer.
This season, no matter the outcome, is lost. The Lakers aren't winning a championship, nor are they likely to make the playoffs. While this level of devastation wasn't necessarily expected, it's not shocking.
Everything the Lakers have done since summer 2012 has been with this offseason and next in mind, when they will become major free-agency players. Dreams of wrangling LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have (mercifully) subsided, but they've been replaced by hopes that Los Angeles can position itself for a Kevin Love pursuit in 2015.
Things aren't peachy in Minnesota in case you haven't noticed, and per NBA.com's Sam Smith, Love could already be plotting his escape:
Now the Timberwolves face the issue teams have with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard: Trade him now or this summer and get something? Try a sign and trade when he opts out after next season? Lose him? Utah traded Williams early and seems to have done well. Denver did reasonably well trading Anthony in midseason. But that clause to be traded and then extended for the maximum contract has been eliminated. Love, in the top four this season in scoring and rebounding, is said to be favoring the Lakers or the Knicks in free agency in 2015 when both will have money for perhaps two free agents. So is it even worth it to give up much given Love likely won’t extend with your team?
With summer 2015 more than a year away, the Lakers must conserve funds while signing impact players who can potentially be flipped for more valuable assets later on—no easy task, all things considered.
Sticking with Marshall makes it easier.
The NBA is steeped in point-guard talent. Star floor generals are everywhere, which has made for entertaining basketball and (relatively) stingy financial commitments.
Teams aren't going to offer Marshall lucrative long-term contracts based on how he performs with a reeling Lakers squad. If his numbers hold, there will certainly be interest, but a restrictive collective bargaining agreement, coupled with the possibility that Marshall's numbers were the product of a pedestrian point guard making the most of a tanking situation, ensures he won't be chased like Big Time Rush at a boy-band fan convention.
Re-signing him at reasonable cost gives the Lakers a starting point man who allows them to make other significant additions elsewhere without compromising future flexibility.
Point guard wasn't supposed to be an issue. The Lakers were supposed to have Steve Nash, who is owed $9.7 million next season.
Funneling significant money into a position that was supposed to be sound hurts substantially. This way, though, the Lakers are free to chase free agents who plug other holes (Luol Deng, perhaps?) and can be easily dumped or packaged in a Love trade next season.
Sustainable Production; Invaluable Role
These Lakers better hold on to Marshall.
Defenses will eventually figure out how to defend him better, but as long as Los Angeles pushes the pace and allows him free rein, he'll be fine. Let us not forget that D'Antoni has a knack for turning busted prospects into permanent fixtures (Jeremy Lin, anyone?). If there's a coach with a system out there that virtually guarantees Marshall will remain a viable starter, it's D'Antoni.
Based on what we know the Lakers want to do, can Marshall be their point guard of the future?
"He might not have those numbers all the time—maybe he does, maybe he doesn't—but the rhythm that he gives us is what's important," D'Antoni said after Marshall's first career start, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.
The options he gives them beyond this season as a modestly priced floor general—who is also shooting 46.4 percent from deep—are important, too.
Penciling him in as a star would be premature, and asserting that he can lead the Lakers toward another title someday is equally daft. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, he's what they need.
And what the Lakers must ensure they don't let go of this summer.