When the Los Angeles Lakers waived Kendall Marshall last Friday to clear his unguaranteed 2014-15 salary from the books, freeing up cap space with which to complete other signings, they hoped to be able to bring him back into the fold if he cleared waivers. The Milwaukee Bucks, however, had other ideas, swooping in over the weekend to make a waiver claim on the 22-year-old point guard and add him to new head coach Jason Kidd's backcourt mix.
The Bucks had plenty of money to spend, and will remain well under the 2014-15 salary cap of $63.065 million after being awarded Marshall's league-minimum salary; they've essentially bought a $1 scratch-off ticket in the hope of cashing out with some big-time, bargain-priced playmaking.
After becoming the all-time ACC single-season assist leader during his sophomore year at North Carolina, Marshall was selected 13th overall in the 2012 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns. He struggled mightily as a rookie, leading Phoenix to send him down to the D-League and eventually include him in a package sent with Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for cap space and a first-round draft pick; the Wizards promptly waived him, leaving Marshall out of the NBA less than a year after he'd made his debut. (When the Wizards wound up trading for a new backup point guard midway through the season, Marshall — owner of one of the league's worth-a-follow Twitter accounts — couldn't help but notice.)
Marshall sought a fresh start to his pro career by way of a second D-League stint. After putting up strong numbers for the Delaware 87ers — 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in 37.6 minutes per game, 46.3 percent shooting from 3-point land — Marshall got a chance to run point for Mike D'Antoni's injury-decimated Lakers, and he made the most of his opportunity. (Never did get that Kobe follow, though.)
Despite making just 54 appearances and playing less than 1,600 minutes, Marshall finished 10th in the NBA in assists last season, dropping 477 dimes, 11 fewer than LeBron James. His 8.8 assists per game (in just 29 minutes per contest) would've ranked tied John Wall and Ty Lawson for the league's second-best mark behind superstar Chris Paul; he assisted on 44.3 percent of his teammates' baskets during his floor time, an assist percentage that, again, trailed only CP3. He was careful with the ball, too; among NBA point men, only Paul, Pablo Prigioni and Jose Calderon finished with better assist-to-turnover ratios than Marshall's 3.18-to-1 mark.
That elite playmaking, however, comes attached to some less desirable traits.
Marshall's scoring game continues to be a work in progress, thanks in part to a lack of top-level athleticism and explosiveness; despite boasting good size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) and strength when getting in amongst the trees, Marshall shot just 52.8 percent inside the restricted area, and nearly 17 percent of his attempts in the paint (24 of 143) got blocked. And while Marshall's strong long-range shooting carried over from the D-League — he drilled 39.9 percent of his 3-point tries — he struggled with his stroke both from midrange (a sub-par 31.6 percent) and the free-throw line (a dismal 52.8 percent, taking less than one attempt per 36 minutes of play).
Things get even dicier on the other end of the floor, where Marshall lacks the foot speed and lateral quickness to credibly check most opposing point guards. He didn't fare too well when cross-matched as a shooting guard, either — in limited minutes off the ball, opposing twos rolled up an effective field goal percentage (a statistic that accounts for 3-pointers being worth more than 2s) of .640 against Marshall last season, according to 82games.com's charting. That falls right in between the eFG% that DeAndre Jordan (.676, best in the NBA) and Andre Drummond (.623, No. 2 in the league) posted last year; this means that, during those minutes when Marshall guarded shooting guards, his opposition was as likely to score as two guys who pretty much only dunk and finish alley-oops. That's not what you'd call ideal.
That said, even given the warts in his game, Marshall's court vision, table-setting and play-making acumen make him more than worth taking a minimum-salaried flyer for a Bucks team that finished 26th among 30 NBA teams in points scored per possession and 21st in assist-to-turnover ratio last year.
He won't walk into heavy minutes — Milwaukee returns starting point guard Brandon Knight and 2013 second-rounder/pleasant surprise backup Nate Wolters, could give rising sophomore sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo a look at the point this year, and is reportedly near a deal with free-agent combo guard Jerryd Bayless. But Kidd does seem to favor two-point-guard backcourt alignments — he excelled in them with the New York Knicks in his last season as a player, and he deployed them to great success in his coaching debut with the Brooklyn Nets last year — and if he can help make scoring a bit easier for Milwaukee bigs like Larry Sanders, John Henson and No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker, he could carve out a role with a Bucks squad looking to take a big step forward after scuffling to a league-worst 15-67 record last season.
And if nothing else, it gives Marshall the chance to once again share the court with Henson, his longtime pal and former North Carolina teammate, as they look to revisit their college years up in Wisconsin:
You might want to watch your back, Jabari. Rookie hazing could be especially harsh for a former Blue Devil now.
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