Although the Los Angeles Lakers have been woefully incompetent since their 10-9 start, a gem has emerged from their mediocrity.
Twenty-two-year-old Kendall Marshall has been putting up big numbers and may ultimately become a cheap, long-term option at the point guard position for the Lakers moving forward.
Averaging 10.5 points and 9.6 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range, Marshall has been everything Mike D'Antoni wants from a point guard. Making almost two three-point shots per game, Marshall is the type of point guard who can run an offense while stretching the floor for D'Antoni.
Recall that when the Lakers were at their most competitive this season, the offense was being run by Steve Blake in the starting lineup and Jordan Farmar for the second unit. Both players could control the tempo of the game, stretch the floor and penetrate into the lane. In fact, Blake's versatility on offense to start the season was a pleasant surprise for the squad.
Marshall can do all of those things for the Lakers. While he isn't as dynamic as Farmar, he is arguably more consistent. However, like most of the point guards the Lakers have had in the modern era, Marshall isn't the best defensive player.
If Marshall wants to continue to be a major contributor when Kobe Bryant makes his return, he has to learn to play without the basketball in his hands.
While he will still get his touches and run the offense as a point guard, he will have to learn to share the ball with one of the most notorious ball-stoppers in the history of the league. This will be especially true even if Bryant becomes more of a facilitator like he was last season.
Marshall is already a great three-point shooter. This will be invaluable if Bryant dominates the ball upon his return. If he can learn to move without the ball and utilize screens to get open, he could find a niche in the offense in the same way Blake and Farmar play off each other when they are on the court together. However, to do this, Marshall has to become a more proficient mid-range shooter.
According to his shot chart, Marshall rarely takes mid-range jumpers. Of the jumpers he does take, he is only efficient from the right elbow. Continual improvement to his shot should give him a chance at a consistent role once the Black Mamba regains his form.
Marshall's greatest strength is his ability to create and pass like an old-school point guard.
Whereas the league is filling up with explosive combo guards like Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, Marshall is a throwback to an era when scoring point guards like Tony Parker were abnormalities rather than the meta.
If Kobe Bryant is able to regain even a portion of his former scoring prowess, returning to the score-first mentality that made him so prevalent, Marshall is more than capable of being the primary facilitator.
While Bryant was able to dominate the ball while still getting others involved in the offense during the triangle-offense era, D'Antoni's offense will require a facilitator like Marshall to distribute the ball if Bryant ever wants to challenge for a scoring title again.
This means that Marshall's role once Bryant returns will be predicated on Bryant's style of play. A facilitating Bryant will mean that Marshall will have to be more of a spot-up shooter or a slasher. A score-first Black Mamba will mean that Marshall can continue to do what he does best: facilitate.
Whichever role Marshall ends up playing, there is no doubt that he would be very effective in the rotation if he can beat out either Jordan Farmar or Steve Blake for minutes.
Statistics are accurate as of January 31, 2014 and are from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.