Kendall Marshall has nothing to lose, so he’s just going to go out there and play

Marshall, driving with the Lakers last season. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Marshall, driving with the Lakers last season. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

It was a precipitous fall from grace for Kendall Marshall

On October 28, 2013, he was released by the Washington Wizards. The Wizards saw him only as a contract, a throw-in by the Phoenix Suns to make the trade for Marcin Gortat possible. A first round pick only a year and a half before, now he was only a number to a team who counted Eric Maynor and Garrett Temple as their backups.

For a month, he waited for the next NBA opportunity. A month was all it took for Marshall to grow tired of waiting.

“I’d say around Thanksgiving I told my agent, ‘Just get me on the court, I don’t care where I’m playing,'” Marshall said at Media Day Monday afternoon. “And he said, ‘Well you could go to the D-League’ and I said ‘Let’s do it.’ I went down there with the mindset that I have to take it game-by-game and everything else will take care of itself.”

Marshall played seven games for the famously weird Delaware 87ers (who featured Thansis Antetkounmpo). He averaged nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds. His first game he finished with 31 points, 10 assist and nine rebounds. Once known for a shaky jump shot, he made 46.3% of nearly six 3-point attempts per game. This was the player that couldn’t last a week in Washington? This guy could barely crack the rotation in Phoenix?

What changed? According to Marshall, it was as simple as experiencing some failure and allowing that failure to free him of any fear he was bringing onto the basketball court. There are few differences bigger for a player than going from lottery pick anointed as Steve Nash’s successor to D-League castoff in the course of one season.

“Everything I’ve been through, it’s kind of put me in a mindset to not be afraid to fail … because quote unquote I have already,” he said with a chuckle. “Now I can just go out there and play and not be scared to make mistakes. That’s the main thing I’ve taken from my journey so far.”

The freedom Marshall began to experienced was evident in his shooting. Coming out of college, his form and accuracy were the recipients of much criticism from draft analysts and bloggers. He’d always been a heady passer, but without the athleticism that allows many of his point guard counterparts to rise above the rim and finish, how would he get by, given that he had yet to display a reliable 3-point shot.

He said it wasn’t a matter of form, so much it was a matter of confidence for all those years.

“80% confidence,” he said. “To just go out there and take the shots and not worry about missing. That was something that kind of weighed on me throughout college and throughout my first year in the NBA, I was so scared to miss. But now, like I said, when you’ve seen the bottom, you know what it feels like to be out of the league, it kind of feels like you have nothing to lose at that point, you just go out there and play.

His success in the D-League earned him a spot with the Los Angeles Lakers after injuries cost most of the guards on the roster playing time. He responded with 20 points and 15 assists in his first start for the Lakers, a win over the Jazz, a team he felt like he could have helped when point guard Trey Burke went down with an injury.

That’s another thing about Marshall. He doesn’t seem to forget it when he feels slighted.

“I won’t say that the teams that kind of put me in a tough position are the reason why I play, but it certainly doesn’t hurt,” he said. “Especially when you play against those teams, you want to play well. Every player in this league, when you’re playing against your former team, you want to play well and I guess, stick it to them.”

He noted last season how naysayers motivated him:

“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.”

By the end of last season, Marshall was averaging nearly nine points and nine assists per game. He thrived under Coach Mike D’Antoni and attributed his success to the opportunity he received and his growth as a player. The path to a starting job is likely to be much more crowded early on in Milwaukee, but Marshall probably has the most “pure point guard” credentials on the roster. Coach Jason Kidd mentioned his name when talking about a potential point guard by committee approach between Marshall, Brandon Knight and Jerryd Bayless.

But Marshall will have to make the team first. Along with Chris Wright, who joined the team late last season after a pair of 10-day contracts, Marshall’s 2014-15 contract is not guaranteed. He and Wright will essentially have to battle it out for the last roster spot. Their play will certainly be a factor, but Milwaukee’s depth at both the point guard and wing positions will factor in too. Where will the Bucks need more help? Who can provide it more effectively?

“The journey has been crazy,” Marshall said. “It’s been unexpected, there’s been a lot of turns but it makes me very grateful and thankful. To be in this situation and still be able to play basketball for a living. To land in Milwaukee has been a blessing in disguise. I see opportunity here, to grow with the team. That’s my main goal, just take advantage of this opportunity and contribute the way that I can.”

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  1. I was expecting the Bucks to package a few players and to make a few more trades in order to “improve” the club as a whole, but it never happened. Wow. They are going into camp with a talented First Round rookie with a very bright future; two or three promising young players who are still not developed; a starting Center who has yet to prove that he can actually do anything constructive on a professional basketball court and sustain his play; a slew of slow, “has been” back up players, and numerous unproven rookies.

    This is a 27-55 basketball team at best. A lot of these players on the current roster “needed” to go in a very bad way, and it was not done. It may be a very long season, but a little better than last year. Maybe next year’s First Round picks can be added to the mix of an existing young core – and maybe, just maybe, the 2015-2016 might have the Bucks playing better. I am convinced that this is another “Tank Season” by design. Why? Because you don’t keep Ilyasova and Mayo and expect to have a winning season.

    • The only move that I truly question was signing Jerryd Bayless. Otherwise, the Bucks offseason went about as well as we could have hoped.

      Giannis has shown a ton of improvement since the end of last season with both his play in Summer League as well as his surprising performances for Greece during the FIBA Tournament. Drafting Jabari Parker goes without saying, and even our second round picks are at least exciting prospects, Ingles with his potential of playing multiple positions and being a strong defender, and O’Bryant with his rebounding and post ability.

      Getting Marshall off waivers was an underrated move as well. It was little risk and could be a big reward for the Bucks going forward. He’s the first traditional point guard we’ve had in a while, and as long as he can consistently make his threes as he did last season, he’ll be a treat for the Bucks.

      I’m still part of the (admittedly) small committee that feels we should stick with Larry for at least another year. If he can keep himself in check both on and off the court (a gamble, but one we should take nonetheless), he has proven to be a top defensive anchor in the league.

      Of course this is still a tank/rebuild season. This is what we’ve needed for a long time, and while landing Jabari was a huge step in the right direction, we still need a lot more than that to make the Bucks a serious contender.

      Besides, what would we have gotten for Ilyasova or Mayo? Both were coming off arguably the worst seasons for their careers.

  2. I’m really excited about Kendall being the guy who makes the Bucks exciting and effective on offense by taking control of the court and getting the ball to our promising young players in places where they can score.

    I still say Kendall at point and Brandon at two is a backcourt with a bright future. Let’s hope Nate does well filling in at both positions, and see who else might be able to contribute at guard, or who we might be able to bring in (perhaps a crafty vet off the bench like Andre Miller, plus I’m still not giving up on getting Scott Suggs).

    If Kendall really is serious about improving all aspects of his game, including defense, this could be one of the best pickups for the Bucks ever. Let’s hope he grows with a new generation of Bucks who become a real team, and then become champions. #selfless #enthusiasm

      • I agree w/ canadabucks…lets not overlook that his success came under Dantoni who made Ray Felton look good w/ the Knicks. Also kind of telling for Wolters that his name was not among those mentioned by Kidd.

        • A fun thing about sites like Bucksketball for me is swapping opinions with other good fans, agree or disagree. I’d really like to see a lot of other Bucks fans commenting on Kendall’s role and prospects with the team.

          It’s really hard to know how any of our young guys are going to go in the next few years. I think Kendall has the knack for the point position in a big way, and I’m excited to see if he fulfills my hype, so to speak.

          • I’d really like to see him do well and I hope he succeeds however I don’t think being a great passer is enough and he needs to improve in a lot of areas to be effective. Right now Brandon knight is a much better option.

          • CouchPotatoScout

            I’ve loved Marshall ever since he came out of college since I’m in love with pure point guards that understand what passing is. In fact, Marshall has had one of the highest assists per 36 minutes ratings for guards under the age of 25. I think if you’ve got a guy who can run the offense and pass, he’s incredibley useful.

  3. Marshall stands a reasonable chance of doing 1 of 2 things.

    1: Confirm my feeling that a PG with the ability to “see what’s going to happen before it does” makes everyone on his team better. Gives the game excitement.

    2: Make pro hoops less interesting for me. If the NBA is set up to showcase one-on-one play (and not team play) then the coming games and my senior naps wwill overlap.

    Of course, Marshall may prove to be none of the above, but that shouldn’t keep Kidd from making the point a position of interest.