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.”