Marshall made improvements with the Lakers last season, but he has a ways to go offensively. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Marshall made improvements with the Lakers last season, but he has a ways to go offensively. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know I’ve spent far too many hours justifying Brandon Jenningsability to play point guard in my life. Virtually for as long as he was with the Milwaukee Bucks, I remember having conversations about his assist numbers and offensive productivity. It wasn’t that he was a bad or unwilling passer, I’d say, it’s that his teammates were so bad offensively that they were making it impossible for him to get assists.

How was he suppose to rack up double digit assist games pitching the ball to a half asleep John Salmons, a practically retired Corey Maggette or Stephen Jackson who may have been engaging in an on-court protest his entire stint in Milwaukee. And if he had some better teammates, that’d open things up for him to improve his shooting percentages all over the court.

It was one sad justification after the next. But now I know. I know a guy can be a productive passer, even on a team filled with teammates that aren’t very good. I know a guy an be that passer, even if he is practically a non-factor offensively outside of that passing. I know this because I spent the weekend studying Kendall Marshall.

Marshall was so much better at passing than any guard that played on the Bucks roster last season. I knew that to be true even before I looked at the third year guard’s numbers, but still, when I looked at his passing statistics pulled from the NBA’s stat-tracking cameras, I was taken aback. Look at how many more points Marshall was creating last season than any of Milwaukee’s guards:

Points created by assist per game
Points Created by AST Per 48 Min
Kendall Marshall (LAL) 20 33
Brandon Knight (MIL) 11.6 16.6
Ramon Sessions (MIL) 11 16.2
Luke Ridnour (MIL) 7.9 17.9
Nate Wolters (MIL) 7.6 16.3

Per 48 minutes, he nearly doubled all of Milwaukee’s guards in points created by assist per 48 minutes on a Lakers team that, while they were better than the Bucks, definitely wasn’t very good offensively. He beautifully worked pick and pops with Paul Gasol and, on his occasional trips to the rim, showed a great ability to find teammates for easy looks in the paint. That’s the thing about Marshall, it’s not that he’s passing at some unfathomable volume, it’s that his passes typically do a better job than the average player’s passes at getting his teammates in a position to score. In about four minutes less per game than Brandon Knight, Marshall threw 3.5 more passes per game (Marshall: 62.9 – Knight: 59.4), which isn’t a ton more passing. He just makes them count a bit more.

But let’s talk about those occasional trips to the rim. When I write occasional, know that I’m not using that word haphazardly. According to the stat-tracking cameras, Marshall’s time of possession per game was about five minutes exactly, compared to Wolters 3.1 minutes per game. In those five minutes, Marshall averaged just 4.6 drives per game, whereas Wolters averaged 4.1 drives. Knight blew both of them out of the water, with 6.8 drives per game in his 6.1 minutes of possession each night. Many a word has been written on this site about Knight and his style of point guarding, but Wolters isn’t especially seen as a shoot first point guard by any stretch of the imagination. And even he is driving with more frequency per minute than Marshall.

And when Marshall drives, the results aren’t great. Not only did he average just 2.1 points per game on drives, but his team averaged just 4.9 points per game on his drives. So it’s not like Marshall was often getting through defenders and dropping it off for his teammates, though he did show some ability to do that. He just generally struggled to get through defenders.

Player PPG on Drives
Team PPG on Drives
PTS Per 48 Min on Drives
Ramon Sessions (MIL) 6.1 10.2 8.9
Brandon Knight (MIL) 5 7.9 7.1
Nate Wolters (MIL) 2.5 4.6 5.3
Kendall Marshall (LAL) 2.1 4.9 3.5

This lack of offensive productivity wasn’t just limited to Marshall’s drives either. According to mySynergySports, he ranked 429 in the NBA in points per possession last season. He was a much improved 3-point shooter, but he still wasn’t hitting with enough volume (1.5 3PM per game last season) to make up for his lack of attack and finish skills everywhere inside the 3-point line.

Of course, what was broken for Marshall last season (everything aside from his passing) doesn’t have to be broken forever. While he’s a bit pokey, his improvement as a 3-point shooter last season (31% 3FG as a rookie, 40% 3FG in year two) gives hope that he’ll keep finding ways to get better. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in size, at a 6-foot-4 point guard. Perhaps he’ll improve enough around the basket on his limited forays to the rim and keep his 3-point percentage high enough to turn himself into an average scorer. Marshall as an average scorer makes Marshall a relevant player. That’s how good his passing is.

So surely he has his orders from his new team. Put the ball in the basket more. Learn to do it with more consistency and find your spots on the court and a path to get to them more often. The point guard position remains an open one in Milwaukee. If Marshall can get better, there’s no reason he can’t stake a claim to a percentage of those minutes.