Kendall Marshall is comfortable being himself, has 'it' factor

New Suns point guard Kendall Marshall poses with head coach Alvin Gentry (far right) and executives Lon Babby (far left) and Lance Blanks. (Photo by Michael Schwartz/ValleyoftheSuns)

New Suns point guard Kendall Marshall poses with head coach Alvin Gentry (far right) and executives Lon Babby (far left) and Lance Blanks. (Photo by Michael Schwartz/ValleyoftheSuns)

PHOENIX — Kendall Marshall can’t duck from the truth.

He’s immediately given the label of the Phoenix Suns’ point guard of the future. He’s supposedly the perfect fit for their up-tempo system.

And eventually, he’ll be Steve Nash’s replacement.

Whether all of the above becomes reality Sunday, a couple years down the road — or never — is hard to say. But when introduced to the Phoenix media on Friday at US Airways Center, Marshall did as good of a job as anyone could have in bringing faith and understanding about why the Suns took him 13th overall in the draft.

From the moment he walked into the room in his spiffy suit and thick-rimmed glasses, the 20-year-old out of North Carolina brought an impressive command to the room.

“I didn’t really think about the NBA much until the end of my freshman year in college. You know, guys ask me if I was coming back. And I said, ‘Where would I go?'” Marshall said, drawing laughter from the audience. “It didn’t dawn on me that I could leave for the NBA just yet.”

Here he is. And now the question becomes this: Can he command an NBA team on the court as well as he controlled the podium at his opening presser?

The self-labeled “cerebral point guard” gives the Suns a compelling piece that’s much unlike the new-age point guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Head coach Alvin Gentry called him a smart basketball player and a “coach’s player” (i.e., a coach on the floor).

“Moreso than anything, the cerebral part I think is really important where I think he’s going to be a guy that can very much control the game,” Gentry said. “I love his size, you know, 6-5 point guards in this league do very well.”

Certainly, questions will arise about a lack of athleticism, how he’ll be able to handle the Roses and Westbrooks on the defensive side of the ball. His answer to that tough question posed by one media member was not one that you sometimes hear.

He didn’t say his athleticism was underrated, that the scouting reports were wrong. It wasn’t a complaint about not getting enough credit. Rather, Marshall met the query with an analytical, basketball-savvy response.

“I feel like I can definitely get better,” he said. “I think defensive schemes are highly underrated — people don’t realize in the NBA, with the spacing, how important that is.”

Added Suns General Manager Lance Blanks: “This young man … he is well beyond his years. He has the ‘it’ factor. He’s dynamic in his personality. He has a great sense of who he is. He’s not trying to be anything he’s not, not only as a basketball player but as a person.

“He’s not the most athletic guy, and you guess what? He’s comfortable with that.”

And therein lies the key to Marshall success. He’s closer to a Ricky Rubio than a Derrick Rose, obviously, but that’s what makes his future so compelling.

Marshall stayed away from making a comparison of himself to a current NBA player. He said he has a unique game, though he’ll study and steal aspects of others’ games — from Steve Nash’s bounce passes in pick-and-roll situations to Jason Kidd’s rebounding at the point guard spot.

It’s early, for sure.

Yet, Friday’s introduction was the first proof that Marshall fits the Suns as much as the Suns fit him. He started off by asking how everyone was doing, then rattled off the names of Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash and Grant Hill in talking about the Suns’ tradition.

It came out genuinely and confidently. And with an upfront Blanks even mentioning that the Phoenix franchise has a “risk of tough times in the near future,” having that cerebral piece is comforting if not intriguing.

“There’s just something about Kendall when you meet him and he works out, it’s something that stays with you,” Gentry said. “You try to be objective … but at the end of the day, I really wanted him and I think everybody else wanted him.”

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