McDonald’s All-American; North Carolina’s all-time single-season assist leader; second-team AP All-American; a floor general near-unrivaled in his sense of pace, space and vision; 13th pick in the 2012 draft.
On paper, Kendall Marshall seemed the stuff of NBA dreams—a 20-year-old point guard with the demeanor and deft feel of a veteran double his age.
Lucky for Marshall, then, that his career is now in the hands of perhaps the best possible steward: Jason Kidd.
It’s not merely that Kidd is one of the top five point guards in league history, although that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Nor is it an admission of Marshall’s best chance somehow being his last chance. At 22 years old, he’s bound to get a few more pickups and dust-offs.
Rather, the fit exists in the two's on-court similarities.
Both left college after two seasons. Both possessed the perfect eye for passing lanes that set them apart from their peers. Both had broken jumpers in dire need of tweaking.
As for first-year fortunes, that’s where the similarities cease. Kidd went on to win 1995 co-Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill, receiving his first All-Star nod the following season. Over the next 18 years, nine more nods—and one hard-fought title—would follow.
Marshall, meanwhile, split rookie time between the NBA D-League’s Bakersfield Jam and the Phoenix Suns, with whom he averaged just three points and three assists over 48 games. The following October, Marshall was traded to, and subsequently waived by, the Washington Wizards.
Another D-League team, the Delaware 87ers, signed Marshall a few weeks later. Then, later that month, came what appeared to be his big break: a two-year, non-guaranteed contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Under the famously point guard-friendly Mike D’Antoni, Marshall authored something of a rebound season, tallying eight points and 8.8 assists on 40 percent shooting (ditto from the distance) over 54 games.
Though far from his onetime trajectory, Marshall, it seemed, had finally found footing.
Naturally, out came the rug: On July 18, the Lakers—with Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash and second-round pick Jordan Clarkson now in the fold—bid Marshall adieu.
Given Marshall’s luck, it seemed the Lakers might actually get their wish, even if the end result was doomed to be another D-League demotion.
Kidd got there first.
Truth told, Kidd’s hadn’t been the happiest recent past, either: After a mixed-bag season at the helm of the Brooklyn Nets, Kidd’s failed attempt at consolidating front-office power resulted in his being traded to the Bucks, per ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo.
The price? A pair of second-round draft picks.
For Kidd, it was a quick fall from grace, even if the landing—in the hands of Bucks owner, and longtime friend, Marc Lasry—was a soft one.
And while Kidd’s desire for control over Milwaukee’s front office has yet to materialize, you’d better believe his is a voice being heard loud and clear on the operations front:
Which brings us back to Marshall. While it’s unclear just how much say Kidd had in the claim, you have to think there was at least some redemptive motivation behind it.
Still, don’t discount the pure practicality, either. For all his five-tool upside, Brandon Knight’s lack of consistent playmaking means his destiny could be as a versatile combo guard. Similarly, Nate Wolters—while certainly serviceable—simply can’t be trusted to run the offense full time. At least not yet.
With Milwaukee preparing to build around the offensive versatility of rookie Jabari Parker and second-year Greek phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kidd doesn’t need a score-first point guard; he needs a playmaker.
Here’s Bleacher Report’s Matt Fitzgerald speaking on precisely this point:
Marshall is not the most athletic point guard, but he has a high basketball IQ and has a young, talented supporting cast at his disposal to learn and develop with. This is a mutually beneficial decision, as Marshall is afforded an unprecedented opportunity to prove himself on the court with a team that actually sought him out.
The Lakers turned to Marshall in near desperation, searching for a spark. Phoenix gave up on Marshall before he was able to grow into a respectable, capable NBA player. Now, the Bucks—and Marshall himself—are reaping the benefits.
That’s the hope, anyway. Sooner or later, the suspended disbelief that’s followed Marshall through so many a slight and setback will have to take a permanent backseat to the prevailing reality: Maybe he’s just not an NBA point guard.
In the meantime, hope abounds that Milwaukee—imbued as it is with equal parts ingrained patience and youthful promise—might prove to be Marshall’s saving grace.
That, and the steady hand and peerless brain of one of the best to ever play the game.
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