PHOENIX — It’s not uncommon that a first-round draft pick takes some career bruises as a green NBA player.
Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green was out of the league after four quiet NBA seasons but led Phoenix with 28 points in its 121-114 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Channing Frye added 20 points for Phoenix, and the eighth overall pick from 2005 had gone through a similar ordeal after the Knicks traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers after two seasons in the Big Apple. Likewise, Suns center Miles Plumlee saw the Pacers ship him off after a season and 55 minutes of game action.
And then there’s Kendall Marshall, the former Suns lottery pick who made his U.S. Airways return as a starter for the injury-plagued Lakers on Wednesday.
“I mean, it’s a business,” Marshall said. “I just happened to go through it a lot earlier than a lot of other people.”
It’s true, but in the second-year point guard’s case, such a humbling experience came with a much stronger message. He wasn’t traded for a player who could contribute now, as was Frye for Zach Randolph or Plumlee for Luis Scola. It wasn’t a fizzle-out like Green, who didn’t improve enough with multiple teams. Marshall was shipped off when Ish Smith looked like a better role player for the Suns, and on top of it all, he was dumped by a Washington Wizards team that’s currently wishing for a backup to John Wall.
Two teams didn’t want him badly enough where they wouldn’t even stick him on the end of the bench.
“Of course there’s doubt,” Marshall said of his thought process after being waived by Washington. “You’re out the league after one year after being a lottery pick. Of course you’re questioning yourself. But I think that lasted a whole two days. Once I got back on the court and started working out, it was focusing on the future.”
Question why exactly the Suns and Wizards wanted no part of the North Carolina product, who has obvious flaws on the court but always was an NBA player in potential.
But it’s not Marshall’s fault he was drafted in the lottery.
It’s not his fault he was picked by a Phoenix team with a questionable front office. Nor is it his fault that he only saw playing time under an interim head coach who couldn’t coax much out of anyone other Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker, two effort players who would fight for Lindsey Hunter’s FatHead.
In the Lakers’ loss, Marshall finished with 10 points and 13 assists against his former team. He was picked on as a mismatch whether it was Dragic blazing by him or Green shooting jumpers over him in the post.
Instead of wondering why the Suns didn’t like Marshall, maybe wonder why the Suns never saw him willingly crank up 16 shots and play with an aggression that, no matter how much slimmer he is, was impressive.
“We saw him improve over the summer,” said Suns coach Jeff Hornacek. “One thing that the guys asked of him when he was coming back is ‘work on your shooting and work on your quickness.’ I think he’s done both of those. I think the added quickness has added the little separation from guys in pick-and-rolls, he’s able to create some space and make some passes.”
That we already knew. Hate on Marshall however you like, but at least give him his due. He’s not giving up on his future.
The shooting in his Phoenix return was still iffy, however. Marshall still struggled to finish at the basket, and his jumper was spotty. After knocking down his second three of the game to give Los Angeles a 56-43 lead late in the second quarter, it went a little downhill.
In the third quarter, it was the Suns’ Green, another former first-round pick who was once out of the NBA, who pushed Phoenix past Marshall’ troubled Lakers. Green said he’d let his team down on Monday by shooting 2-for-16 from the field against the New York Knicks. He just wanted to make up for it.
“Even if I had been 4-for-16 (against the Knicks), we win the game, even though that’s a horrible, horrible shooting game,” Green said, ironically quoting Marshall’s shooting accuracy for Wednesday.
Another piece of irony was that Green got hot with Marshall guarding him as the Lakers attempted to keep the point guard away from the speedy Dragic, who scored 18 points to go with 10 rebounds and eight assists.
The end product was an end to a three-game losing skid where the Suns couldn’t close out close games on the road.
“The positive thing about losing those games – even though there’s nothing really positive coming out of losing – is we was in the game,” Green said. “We had a chance to win all those games. It was something we did, the reason why we lost. We were the ones that made a mistake and we could fix that.”
The Lakers couldn’t fix much defensively, just as they haven’t in their six straight losses. But like Kendall Marshall, they’re at least deserving of the NBA logo on their jerseys.
Nick Young gets ejected
Lakers guard Nick Young pulled what Markieff Morris had done on Monday. With a limited roster, Young got himself ejected in the first half of a tight game.
While Morris went off for 24 points, seven boards and four assists to make up for his early exit a game prior, Young got whacked in the face by Suns rookie Alex Len. Then, he lost his cool. Young stood up and found himself in a shoving match with several Suns, including Len and the Morris twins. When Goran Dragic tried to move Young away from the Phoenix players, Swaggy P got a little too close to the swagger of Muhammad Ali — at least for the game of basketball.
“I got caught up in the moment like anyone would,” Young said. “It was a tough foul. What I’m mad about is it was one on five, I felt like, and if somebody would have gotten in the middle, it wouldn’t have escalated that much.
“I feel bad for Dragic,” he added. “He was the last person right there and I didn’t throw I punch. I was trying to shove people out of the way. I didn’t try to push Dragic, he’s my guy. I feel bad for that.”
Asked after the game about his teammates’ reaction, Kendall Marshall gave a quote that by this moment has already made its rounds within the Los Angeles media.
“I think Nick kind of saw what he wanted to see at the time,” Marshall said. “Obviously, like I said, you got to understand we got seven guys, so maybe at that point in time you just got to chill out.”
Meanwhile, Len could receive a bit more help from his teammates. Not only did they come to his side during the skirmish.
“I hate for that to happen to the rookie, Len,” Green said. “I don’t think that was intentional. I hope the NBA don’t do anything, but if it does, I’ll take care of it.”