Kendall Marshall realizes he is now the hottest fantasy basketball pickup, having amassed at least 10 assists in nine of his last 12 appearances for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers picked up Marshall in an emergency situation as three of their point guards — Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Jordan Farmar — were felled with significant injuries. Marshall, a former lottery pick who left the University of North Carolina two years early, was trying to resurrect his career in the NBA Developmental League.
He had been dumped by the Phoenix Suns, who moved him to the Washington Wizards in the Marcin Gortat/Emeka Okafor deal. And after telling his family he was looking forward to playing near his Virginia roots, the Wizards waived him just days after the deal was announced.
Marshall is only 22 years old but already has been exposed to the cruel side of the business. The Suns considered him a poor fit virtually moments after he was drafted, a halfcourt point guard who lacked shooting ability and fast-break prowess. Not only have the Lakers given Marshall a chance to play in the NBA — a far cry from the Delaware 87ers — but he’s starting and playing major minutes because they are devoid of a floor leader. Marshall is averaging 12.1 points and 11.9 assists in his 12 starts for Los Angeles, and shooting 47 percent from the 3-point arc. What’s more, Marshall has converted 32 3-pointers in 16 games this season, compared with 23 in 48 games as a rookie.
“It’s been good. I’ve enjoyed it and tried to make the most of [my opportunity],” he said last week. “When that chance does come about, you have to be ready to help the team in any way possible. It was really tough [the last year] but I lean on the people really close to me — my sisters, my parents, my close friends — that know what I can do. That support system has been great for me throughout the process.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough. That’s what really kept me going.”
Marshall averaged nearly 10 assists and 33 minutes per game as a sophomore for the Tar Heels, and entered the 2012 NBA draft known as a master distributor. But his detractors followed. Scouts believed Marshall was slow afoot and had a broken jump shot. The Suns had also signed 26-year-old Goran Dragic to a long-term deal and then added Eric Bledsoe through a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, leaving little space for the developing Marshall.
He believed he could be the backup to John Wall with the Wizards but that was never considered, leaving him as a 21-year-old free agent.
“You start questioning yourself, without a doubt,” Marshall said. “You start wondering if it’s a fluke that you’re here. But again, it goes back to having confidence in yourself and realizing what you can do and realizing that you’re here for a reason. When you put the work in, it validates to yourself that you could play at this level.”
Marshall has indeed worked on his game over the past several months. He still lacks that consistent midrange jumper but he has vastly improved from 3-point range, as evidenced by the four he canned during the Lakers’ narrow win over the Celtics on Jan. 17.
“This league is all about perception,” Marshall said. “They said Jason Kidd’s whole career he couldn’t shoot and he finished third all time in 3-pointers. If people want to leave me open because they say I can’t shoot, I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Obviously, there is desire on Marshall’s part to prove he was worthy of a lottery pick, and that he is an NBA-caliber point guard. He was angry and disappointed that the Wizards didn’t even bring him in for a practice before cutting him loose, and that there is a perception he was merely a product of talented teammates at North Carolina.
But Marshall said he keeps smiling. He doesn’t turn 23 until August, and his career is just beginning, albeit after a bumpy start.
The Lakers aren’t shy about using Marshall — he has played at least 33 minutes in all 12 of his starts and more than 40 minutes four times. It’s a byproduct of the Lakers’ season-long struggles as they have thrown out a plethora of castoffs hoping to compete with Nash and KobeBryant on the shelf.
“You want to be able to perform at the highest level, but honestly, I try to look at everything bad I do every single game,” Marshall said. “You just don’t want to be happy to be one of those one-hit wonders that played well for 10 games. You want to be able to do it over the length of your career. I’m constantly looking for ways to get better, ways to cut down on turnovers.”
Marshall said he has been encouraged by his North Carolina brethren, including Vince Carter, John Henson, Marvin Williams, and Harrison Barnes. They tell him he has NBA talent but needed the right avenue. His perseverance and patience appear to be paying dividends.
“I feel a lot of people do go through [what I have] in their career, just not as early as I have,” Marshall said. “Most guys, the first team you were drafted by, you are usually with them two to three years. I know guys do go through it but usually not when you’re a rookie, 21 years old.
“As a competitor, you keep a checklist of things in your head. All the people that doubted you or cut you or waived you. You want to go out there every day and not just prove to them or prove to yourself, but prove to the league that they made a mistake.”
ON THE SHELF
Heat forced to deal with Wade’s knees
Dwyane Wade has missed four consecutive games to rest his sore knees entering Sunday’s Finals rematch with the San Antonio Spurs. Wade underwent shock-wave treatment and platelet-rich plasma therapy on his right knee and the recovery time was expected to be six months. January is the seventh month and Wade is still struggling with pain in both knees.
“I think if you look at his situation, he’s not injured” said Ray Allen, who has replaced Wade in the starting lineup. “Nothing has happened where it has sidelined him for a longer period of time. We were fortunate last year that he wasn’t sidelined more. It’s just a matter of being aware and kind of staying ahead of it, making sure we don’t overdo it and put ourselves in a bad situation at the end of the year.”
LeBron James appears frustrated by the unpredictability of Wade’s status.
“It is tough — guys think it’s easy but it’s tough. We’re a team that’s built on chemistry, that’s built on rhythm,” James said. “With so many guys being in and out and concern with D-Wade, it’s been tough on all of us trying to fill that. We’ve just got to be able to do it a little bit more consistently and go in with the mind-set that sometimes he’s not playing instead of that he is playing. I do know that his knee, if he’s feeling good, he’s going to play. If it’s not feeling good, he doesn’t play.”
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is downplaying the extent of Wade’s injuries, calling the stretch of missed games “part of the process.”
“You can’t predict it, you’re going to have some days where you don’t feel great,” Spoelstra said. “What we tried to do is not predetermine, not have expectations about it. We know that as long as we stick to the routine, he should get better and stronger and quicker. We’ve seen those type of results. Now that we’re at home we can get back on the routine of strength training and conditioning.”
Allen content with life as contender in Miami
Ray Allen left Boston abruptly after the 2011-12 season and signed with the Heat, accepting half the money the Celtics offered for an extension. Allen absorbed considerable criticism in Boston for his decision, but he became an integral part of the Heat’s championship team, hitting one of the biggest shots in Finals history with his step-back 3-pointer in Game 6 against the Spurs.
With Wes Welker leaving the Patriots in a somewhat similar fashion and reaching the Super Bowl this season, Allen was asked whether his departure from Boston and success in Miami brought vindication.
“Once I made my decision, I made it and I had to live with the choices I made,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to find vindication at any angle of my situation. When you know the situation is right for you, you have to do it. I think I was comfortable throughout the year last year and my choice to be here was based on my ability to win and the opportunity to play on a team that accepted me. So, that’s what I focused on more than anything. It wasn’t in spite of anybody else.
“Every moment that I spent in Boston was great. Every one of those moments have propelled me into this new situation. We know that we weren’t going to be there forever and we didn’t start our careers there, so it’s great to look back and talk about the great things that we did there.”
Stars come out to see Duke sensation Parker
While Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Shane Battier came out to BankUnited Center to support coach Mike Krzyzewski as his Duke Blue Devils faced the University of Miami on Wednesday, he was hardly the main reason they made the traffic-filled trek to Coral Gables, Fla. Duke swingman Jabari Parker is considered the most skilled player in college basketball and his career at Duke may be shortlived, and the game served as an opportunity for the NBA stars to get a closer view of the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.
Parker, a 6-foot-8-inch forward, finished with 17 points and a season-high 15 rebounds, using his immense skills to overwhelm the Hurricanes while his size created matchup problems. Bryant, James, and Wade think highly of his skills.
“So much is expected of him but he’s not trained yet to do all these things,” Krzyzewski said. “So, he doesn’t have the experience. When Jabari takes off like that [for a second-half dunk] full court, I’d like LeBron to show him you don’t lose the ball when you do that. One play where we were struggling where Jabari got that muscle [putback] — he went right up and kind of manned it up there, and Jabari was right there [in front of me] — it’s not that I am looking at LeBron, I’m not a LeBron watcher or anything like that, it was in eyesight, you could see him and Dwyane go nuts because that’s a big-time play.”
Krzyzewski has committed to coaching Team USA for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and has developed a bond with James and Bryant, neither of whom played college basketball.
“Those guys like LeBron, Dwyane, Kobe, over the last eight years, along with [Kevin] Durant and [Chris] Paul and Carmelo [Anthony], they’ve really set a great example of how you should play the game and how you should love the game,” Krzyzewski said. “And I think it filtered through all aspects of US Basketball. Kids are better. They appreciate the game better at all levels and it starts with those guys. They’ve been great role models for them.”
Krzyzewski recalls seeing an 18-year-old Durant, fresh off his lone season at the University of Texas, trying out for Team USA in 2008. Considered a long shot to even make the first cut, Durant nearly made the team.
“He said it really helped him,” Krzyzewski said. “Durant at that time was further advanced than any of the freshmen now. Come on. We’re talking one of the top two players in the world. All of these [freshman] kids are going to be really good but they have a long way to go before they get to that level, a lot of work. Durant plays every day and nobody loves the game more than him. That guy that plays for the Heat, that James guy, he loves basketball, and along with their talent, that’s what makes them so good.”
Krzyzewski said Parker is a special talent but hardly a finished product. “He’s a long way from dominating,” the coach said. “If you saw him two games ago, you wouldn’t say he’s dominating. He’s in the process of getting better. He played really well [Wednesday] and he played really well in our last game. That level of consistency, he’s got to show that. The potential is there to be an outstanding player.”
Parker said he has not made a decision about entering the draft, but the perception that he plans on staying at Duke to play with incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor is premature.
“If I get [to the NBA], it’s just a blessing,” Parker said. “It’s just a blessing to be in that category. I’m going to sit down with my parents at the end of the season [to determine] if I want to return, if I want to do other things in my life, if I want to take my talents to the next level. [College basketball] is a learning process for me, just as a student of the game.”
A prospect to watch is Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis, a freshman from Canada who is averaging 11.9 points and 5.5 assists for the Orange. Ennis was considered a two-year player but he has sneaked up some draft projections because of his decision-making and potential. Another player to watch is Florida’s Chris Walker, who has yet to play this season because the NCAA has yet to declare him eligible. Walker could enter the June draft because he is a year removed from high school, and he could land in the top 20 picks . . . NBADL Maine has acquired former first-round pick DanielOrton, giving the Celtics an opportunity to get a close look at a big man who has been disposed of by three teams — Orlando, Oklahoma City, and Philadelphia. With the additions of Chris Johnson and Vander Blue, the Celtics have used the D-League to replenish their roster. The Red Claws waived prospect Romero Osby because of a season-ending shoulder injury. Osby was a second-round pick of the Magic last summer . . . The Celtics are shorthanded at guard with injuries to Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless but they are choosing to go with youngsters over bringing back Keith Bogans, who left the team after expressing unhappiness over his playing time. The Celtics appear content to get a long look at prospects such as Johnson and Blue rather than Bogans. The team could also use his expiring contract as a trade chip or simply waive Bogans for the roster space . . . A player now available is TyshawnTaylor, who was waived by New Orleans last week. Taylor received extensive playing time last season with the Nets but watched his minutes reduced this season by the presence of Shaun Livingston . . . Celtics forward Jared Sullinger missed out on the Rookie/Sophomore game last season as he was overlooked on roster selection before his back injury. This season, he said he views the game as a sign of respect, rather than his primary goal. Sullinger is averaging 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in his second season . . . There have been rumblings about some potential changes in Detroit. The Pistons had playoff aspirations this season but were only 17-26 entering Saturday with recent losses to Utah, New York, and Milwaukee.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.