Kendall Marshall's performance with the Los Angeles Lakers makes one wonder whether he is a viable option going forward as the starting point guard.
Marshall has been the Lakers' best floor general this season despite the fact there are far more accomplished players at the position on the roster.
Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar faced numerous ailments that sidelined them during the course of the season, which prompted L.A. general manager Mitch Kupchak to sign Marshall.
Kupchak has since traded Blake in an effort to figure out exactly what his roster has to offer, via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
It really got to the point where we needed to free up some time in the backcourt to look at Jordan [Farmar] and give Kendall [Marshall] the time that he's earned and let's review and evaluate where we are with those two players. And the other part of it is, we got back two young players that are developing.
Marshall may have been previously unknown, but he is becoming a known commodity.
Produces Like a Starter
The Lakers expected Marshall to hold down the fort until the guys before him returned. However, Marshall joined the Lakers and looked as though he belonged.
On the season, he is averaging 10.7 points and 9.8 assists per game, which is extremely impressive considering that Chris Paul (also known as the greatest point guard alive) is the lone player in the league averaging double digits in points and assists.
Marshall has developed great chemistry with his teammates and has reached a point where he can anticipate their movements. Watch Marshall anticipate the defensive coverage and throw the lob pass over the top:
Marshall has shown he has a knack for setting guys up, but that's hardly his only skill. Marshall is good at converting long-range shots as evidenced by the fact he is hitting 47 percent of his treys.
Marshall is even adept at hitting three-point shots off the dribble. Per SportVU data tracking, he is making 45 percent of his pull-up jumpers from downtown.
His player efficiency rating is superior to Mario Chalmers, George Hill, Jameer Nelson and Shaun Livingston, to name a few. All these players are starters for their current teams, which indicates that Marshall should perhaps enjoy the same role for the Lakers for years to come.
By no means is he perfect. Marshall must become a better scorer since the ball is often in his hands. He must be able to consistently beat single coverage and create high-percentage shots in order to become a premier guard.
This is what puts Paul above everyone else: the playmaking genius coupled with the ability to score seemingly at will.
Granted, Marshall will be 23 years old by the time the 2014-15 season tips off. In other words, he still has ample time to add layers to his game.
Future Tied to Mike D'Antoni
Marshall's fate will invariably mirror that of Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni.
D'Antoni gave Marshall a shot to run the Lakers offense, and he has exceeded expectations. Marshall is generating more assists on average than the likes of Stephen Curry, John Wall and Ricky Rubio, to name a few, which indicates that he is one of the top playmakers in the league.
That fact comes with a fairly big asterisk: D'Antoni knows point guards.
Under his tutelage, floor generals tend to enjoy career years given his emphasis on guard play. D'Antoni loves to put the ball in the hands of the lead guard and have him run a multitude of pick-and-rolls with a few basic reads.
D'Antoni's system typically inflates the numbers of his point guards because of the fast pace and amount of touches they benefit from. For instance, Nash enjoyed the best stretch of his career with the Phoenix Suns under D’Antoni.
Nash averaged 17.7 points and 11.2 assists per game from 2004-05 to 2006-07, per Basketball Reference.
Lin produced his best averages in points (14.6) and assists (6.2) in his lone season with D’Antoni. With the exception of Nash, none of the point guards who flourished under D’Antoni have been able to replicate the same level of productivity and success.
This prompted Stan Van Gundy to make the proclamation on the Dan LeBatard Show that D’Antoni is “the greatest point guard coach in league history.”
Considering how well Marshall has performed with D’Antoni teaching him, it stands to reason that he will be part of the Lakers’ plans as long as the same coaching staff stays in place.
Another headman might not necessarily have the capability of extracting the best out of Marshall’s skills, thus his future will follow suit with D’Antoni’s.
Long-Term Commitment Helps Out L.A.
Committing to Marshall for the future will be beneficial to the Lakers going forward in terms of roster makeup.
Per Sham Sports, Marshall has a non-guaranteed contract that ends in 2014-15. The Lakers have the option to tender a qualifying offer for 2015-16, which allows them to potentially keep Marshall for a few more seasons (via contract extension).
Marshall will probably be in line for a pay increase by then. Prior to that, Marshall’s low cap figure of $915,243 for 2014-15 gives the Lakers an opportunity to sign quality talent.
Indeed, if the Lakers renounce all of their free agents this summer, they will have roughly $26 million in cap room. That might be the perfect instance to acquire athletic players on short deals to put alongside Marshall.
The Purple and Gold have their eyes set on a few future prizes, and the team must be respectable until that time arrives.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons shared this nugget on the Lakers’ prospective plans: “They’re already thinking about 2015 (Kevin Love), 2016 ([Kevin] Durant) and 2017 ([Russell] Westbrook).”
Because of Marshall’s cheap contract, the Lakers can theoretically get rid of Nash (making roughly $9 million annually until the 2015 summer) and add a few stopgap guys while Marshall develops.
This allows the Lakers to reload with Kobe Bryant and Marshall, and then possibly add elite players going forward.
Kendall Marshall Here to Stay
Marshall will more than likely become the Lakers’ long-term starter.
Marshall has produced like an above-average point guard and still has room to grow given his young age. His emergence under D’Antoni likely means their respective fates will be tied together.
Therefore, the front office will probably end up committing to Marshall and D’Antoni for a few years, a move that will make it easier to build a decent roster going forward.
The Lakers are projected to have cap room in the next two summers, and Marshall’s low salary gives the franchise an opportunity to add quality players at prices slightly above market value.
Between the contract and the production, the Lakers will develop Marshall and turn him into their starting point guard for the foreseeable future.
All stats accurate as of February 21, 2014.