Here's a photo of Pau Gasol and Kendall Marshall, teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers, taken on Jan. 17, 2014:
And here's a much cooler photo of Pau Gasol and Kendall Marshall, the former a rising star big man for the Memphis Grizzlies and the latter an 11-year-old headband enthusiast, taken during All-Star Weekend 2003 in Atlanta:
Those of us who tend to get bummed out at reminders of our long-past youth might respond to such an Instagram share with something less than excitement (especially when it doesn't come on Throwback Thursday). Pau, however, met the photo with characteristic social-media excitement: "Time flies!! Here with my teammate @KButter5 at the AllStar weekend in Atlanta 11 years ago!"
An awful lot has obviously changed since that '03 photo op — for one thing, Pau tragically lost the ability to groom his head and face in a freak whitewater rafting accident — but it's pretty cool that more than a decade after approaching Gasol as a pre-teen fan praying to one day reach the league, Marshall can now look at Pau as a playmaking peer.
His path to doing so, of course, hasn't been quite what he expected. After becoming the all-time ACC single-season assist leader during his sophomore year at North Carolina, Marshall went from 2012 lottery pick of the Phoenix Suns to major rookie disappointment, D-League assignee, eventual trade ballast following a regime change in the desert and waiver-wire fodder, before a second D-League stint and a slew of injuries led to him, somehow, becoming the starting point guard of one of the NBA's glamour franchises (albeit in a rare down year).
He's grabbing onto his second chance with both hands, averaging 10.1 points, 9.1 assists and three rebounds per game for Mike D'Antoni thus far, hitting more 3-pointers in 14 games in L.A. (26) than he did in 48 games in Phoenix (23), and showcasing the excellent court vision that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of Chapel Hill en route to assisting on 44.5 percent of his teammates' baskets during his time on the floor; over the course of the full season, that would be the second-highest assist rate in the NBA, trailing only All-Star Weekend staple and fellow Hollywood denizen Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers (54.1 percent).
Marshall still has a long way to go, especially on the defensive end, before he's a reliable night-in-night-out option, but he's come back from the brink of NBA oblivion to carve out a niche for himself in the league. From Sean Highkin of USA TODAY:
"It's very rare in this league that one player sticks with one team for his whole career," Marshall said. "Sometimes it's just not the best fit. Me and Phoenix weren't compatible last year, and they decided to go a different way." [...]
"He can really pass the basketball and run a team," D'Antoni said. "The knock would probably be athleticism, but he seems to get where he wants to go. He can get in the lane. He's a great passer. His shooting has improved. He's got a lot of poise. He's playing well."
"I think it's been great," Marshall said of playing in D'Antoni's offense. "It fits what I do well, it helps me get guys involved, and hopefully makes the team better."
Thanks to renewed confidence and much better marriage of fit and opportunity, Marshall's finally moving in the direction many envisioned for him a couple of years back — and it's allowed him to come full circle on a relationship that began quite a few years before that, too.
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