PHOENIX — Sebastian Telfair may be staring at an inevitable third-string point guard role, but the brash point guard from New York has hardly lost an ounce of his famed confidence nonetheless.
When asked about a potential battle for the backup point guard spot with Kendall Marshall this season, Telfair did not miss a beat in saying, “Well, last year me and Steve was going head to head for the starting position. At least that’s what Coach told me when I got here.
“I’m not exactly sure what position I’m going to be in this year, but I’m prepared to do whatever the team needs me to do to help us win some games.”
After years of searching for a quality backup to Nash save for Dragic’s one sterling season in 2009-10, the Suns now may find themselves with two solid backups in the resurgent Telfair, who really seemed to find his rhythm last season after seven and a half largely unproductive seasons in the league, and Marshall, the pass-first point guard from UNC.
Conventional wisdom dictates that Marshall will eventually win the backup job because lottery picks are typically afforded such an opportunity over a career journeyman like Telfair, especially on a rebuilding team like the Suns.
But as Ronnie Price would attest to after their brutal practice matchups last season, Telfair will not make anything easy on the Suns’ rookie.
“It’s going to be war. It’s going to be war,” Telfair repeated about their training camp battle during Monday’s Media Day festivities. “I don’t know if you guys are going to be down there [at training camp], but you might want to get down there. It’s going to be a sight to see.
“You’ve got to be competitive. When we step into that building to play against another team that competitive nature will go down versus each other, but training camp is the best part to go out there and show what you’ve been working on this summer and show how dedicated you are to the game. I’m a lot better as a player when I’m competing.”
That’s just fine with Marshall, who said the Suns’ veteran point guards Dragic and Telfair “kind of set the bar from me.”
Marshall encountered a similar scenario two years ago at North Carolina, where he entered as a McDonald’s All-American behind incumbent point guard Larry Drew II but earned the starter’s role midway through his freshman season. A year and a half and some absurd assist totals later, he was a lottery selection.
“I feel like I thrive under pressure, and I don’t want anything to be given to me,” Marshall said. “I want to have to prove myself just like everyone else has.”
Marshall will have a pair of superb role models in Dragic and Telfair as he encounters the ups and downs of being a rookie. Dragic spent the first part of his rookie season fighting for playing time with the illustrious Sean Singletary, struggling with his confidence along the way. Telfair was the 13th overall pick in the draft eight years before Marshall earned that honor and struggled as a high school phenom with a shaky jump shot in his early NBA years.
When Marshall has a down game, he won’t have to look far for encouragement and advice on how to deal with those struggles.
Speaking of Dragic, Marshall said, “He started here, and just listening to him talk about how his confidence was very low and he wasn’t really playing the first half of the season. You look at a player like that now and you see that those changes can be made for the better, so it’s comforting to see somebody go through that before me to know that that is possible.”
Marshall’s game is all about making things easier for his teammates, but in order to do so at this level he must learn to be more aggressive in looking for his own shot after averaging an astounding 3.5 more assists than shot attempts per game last season. It takes almost all new Suns time to learn to shoot whenever they are open, and that should especially be the case for the unselfish Marshall.
The rookie has continued to improve on learning the flow of the game at the NBA level since Summer League, as he said some passes he could make in college are no longer an option in the pros due to the speed and athleticism at this level.
However, overall Marshall said, “There’s not much different [between the levels]. I felt like at Carolina we were a pro team in college, so there hasn’t been that much of a change.”
Telfair is no stranger to Marshall’s game as he often watched him ply his craft last season as a Tar Heel.
“Oh, Kendall’s a great player,” Bassy said. “I knew that this kid had a lot of talent, he’s a really good passer. I’m excited to see how it goes for him this year.”
But anybody who knows Telfair in the least bit knows he’s not going to be content to sit on the bench and watch this talented rookie after a season that head coach Alvin Gentry called the best of Bassy’s career.
Instead he stayed in the Valley to work on “everything” in the hopes of finally turning into a consistent point guard.
“I stayed sharp this summer, I worked all summer, I’m ready to go,” Telfair said. “My main goal this year is to be consistent, so the best Sebastian Telfair I can bring out, I want to bring him out every night. I think for me I think people know I can play, it’s just going out there and doing it every night.”
That’s something he has never done in his career, particularly last season when Telfair played a fantastic April after really struggling early in the year.
Telfair said he enjoyed his best shooting season last year by watching film before every game to see where his shots came from and then practicing shots from those spots.
Because of that, Bassy shot a career-best 47.8 percent from 10-15 feet and a career-high 48.0 percent from 16-23, according to HoopData, and per John Hollinger he ranked second in the entire league behind Nash in shooting percentage from 10-23 feet. Throughout his career, Telfair has been a largely miserable shooter from those distances.
“I think that was the first year versus just being in the gym getting up shots it was I was working on the shots that I was going to be taking in the game,” Telfair said. “I became a lot more consistent with my shots.”
In years past the battle for the Suns’ backup point guard spot largely was about which player would do the least damage in the shaky few minutes Nash had to rest ever game.
This year, as Bassy said, that competition will be a war, and the winner figures to do more than just buy time for the starter.
- Marshall on the possibility of playing in a two-point guard lineup with Dragic: “If [Gentry] did decide to put us out there together, especially with two lefties, it’s very unorthodox for teams. You’ve seen it be successful with different teams in the league. If that does happen and Coach does put us out there I feel like we could make it work.”
- Dragic on Marshall: “He played in a big college at North Carolina, so he knows. He’s a great guy, great basketball player, really smart. I think he’s going to be fine this season. Maybe he’s going to need a couple of weeks, months just to get used to this league. It’s tougher, faster. It’s going to be a challenge for him and for us.”
- Gentry: “One of the main reasons we drafted Kendall Marshall was because he could make those plays on the break, and he throws the basketball ahead.” Gentry feels a full training camp and summer will put Marshall in a much better spot than Markieff Morris was last season.
- Marshall: “I joined Twitter in high school, and at first I thought it was dumb because I didn’t have any followers. Once you find people to follow with your interests — for me personally I’m going to follow people talking about basketball, talking about sneakers — they’re going to make you laugh. I think if you have that it could be a great form of entertainment.”
- Morris thinks Marshall looks just like Dudley. Retorted Marshall, “I think because we’re both light skinned, they say all light-skinned people look alike. I don’t think me and Jared look alike at all.”