The Wizards didn’t have the need, roster spot or patience to see if Kendall Marshall had what it took to be an NBA point guard when they released him only three days after acquiring him last October from the Phoenix Suns in a deal for Marcin Gortat.
Marshall, the former Bishop O’Connell star, went nearly two months without attracting any attention around the league and slogged in the NBA Development League with the Philadelphia 76ers affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, while waiting for a call-up.
Desperate for point guard help after losing Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar to injuries, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Marshall on Dec. 19. He played sparingly until Xavier Henry, a swingman masquerading as playmaker, hurt his knee and Farmar returned and was injured again. Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni was forced to put Marshall in the starting lineup on Friday against the Utah Jazz and he responded with career-highs of 20 points and 15 assists while leading the Lakers to a 101-99 win.
“This was easy because we had no other alternative,” D’Antoni said of giving Marshall a shot. “It’s not like, ‘Hey, I love you, you’re great.’ When you’re the only point guard, you’re not really looking over your shoulder.”
After becoming the first Laker since Kobe Bryant in February 2002 to have at least 20 points and 15 assists in a game, Marshall told reporters in Los Angeles what kept him going after experiencing a humbling period for a former NBA lottery pick.
“I actually made a list of things in my phone, that um, things that drive me, that people said I couldn’t do,” Marshall said. “I just try to recite those things to myself every single day. ‘They say you can’t shoot. They say you’re too slow. They say you can’t defend.’ So I know those are things I have to get better at.”
In his past three games, Marshall is averaging 12.7 points and 8.3 assists. D’Antoni praised Marshall for his feel for the game and passing, claiming that “he throws frozen ropes.”
D’Antoni felt the performance reminded him of another D-League castoff who had a similar breakout when D’Antoni was coaching the Knicks. “I’m not making a comparison, but Jeremy Lin did the exact same thing,” D’Antoni said. “The first time he went out in Boston it was awful, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then, obviously it happened to him. It does happen to guys.”
In the Gortat trade, Marshall was just another contract needed to help make the salaries match up. Washington gave the local product his money, wished him well and sent him on his way without much regret. Eric Maynor and Garrett Temple were both signed as Wall’s primary backups, and the season had yet to begin.
But the Wizards were bound to have that decision questioned if things ever panned out for Marshall – especially with Maynor having an abysmal first season in Washington. Marshall has 25 assists in five games this season. In 22 games with the Wizards, Maynor has just 39.
After the Lakers beat the Jazz, Marshall admitted that he was motivated because Utah had failed to reach out to him when point guard Trey Burke was injured earlier in the season.
“I felt a certain kind of way about that,” Marshall said. “It’s been crazy not knowing week to week where I’m going to be, but I feel comfortable here, so hopefully, I’ll be here for a while. Everything happens for a reason and I’m thankful for the way it turned out. Now, I want to make the most of it with this team.”