When the Suns spent last year’s lottery pick on Kendall Marshall, many thought he would — at worst — be the backup point guard to Steve Nash or, later on, Goran Dragic.
Instead Marshall struggled, to the point journeyman Sebastian Telfair beat him out for the job. Outside shooting, it turned out, wasn’t the only item on Marshall’s “needs to improve” list. Energy and defense were there too.
Intent on letting Marshall develop all those qualities on the floor and not the bench, the Suns sent the North Carolina standout to the D-League.
Marshall wasn’t the only rookie to get such an assignment. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones were others. That didn’t stem the disappointment, however, for UNC’s all-time best player in terms of assists-per-game average (9.8 apg). While his outside shooting stroke and athleticism were known question marks when the Suns acquired him, Marshall’s inability to provide an immediate impact followed that other mid-first round picks, such as Robin Lopez and Earl Clark.
In his nine-game stint in the D-League, Marshall confirmed the concerns about his game, shooting just 31.3 percent from the floor, including 22.2 percent from deep. Other than his predictably good passing numbers (7.6 apg), Marshall showed little, if any, tangible improvement.
His saving grace ended up being the awkward coaching regime shift from Alvin Gentry to Lindsey Hunter. The former Director of Player Development, Hunter was one of the few within the organization who had invested significantly into Marshall after his being drafted. This was reinforced shortly after Hunter’s hiring, when the Suns traded Telfair to Toronto for Hamed Haddadi and a draft pick.
With the backup job reopened and the team well out of the playoff race, Marshall saw his playing time come to life. He averaged 18.4 minutes per game in March and April, even starting three games when the Suns elected to give Dragic a night off. Again, his assists during that span (over four per game) were impressive. His shooting (34.8 percent in March, 37.5 percent in April) was not…except this one time.
It would be presumptious to tag Marshall as a bust after one season, particularly when he produced 37 assists in the three games he started. A jump shot can be improved (just ask Jared Dudley). With Dragic in his prime and locked in through at least 2015. Marshall’s rookie contract, complete with team options and a qualifying offer, allow the Suns to keep him or dump him depending on how they feel about his progress.
Phoenix would prefer, however, to get the guy they thought they drafted in the first place.