For the past month, the Milwaukee Bucks have found a new player who is comfortable playing in the low post: backup point guard Kendall Marshall.
It wasn’t a style that the Bucks featured in the preseason or for the first month of the regular season. But since then, Marshall on the right block, backing his man down with a dribble and scanning the court for open shooters, has been a familiar sight.
So how did this tactic get added to the offense?
“To be perfectly honest with you, it was just one day, we were in a game and (Jason Kidd) told me to go down there,” Marshall said. “And it worked, so we’ve just been doing it since then.”
John Henson, Marshall’s closest friend on the team and former college teammate offered another explanation. “I think he has seen me in the past in the post,” Henson quipped. “He kind of got a feel for it, learned from what I did, and now he’s doing it,” Henson said with a chuckle.
The first instance
For the record, the first instance of the Bucks throwing Marshall down into the post was a Nov. 28 win at Detroit. With Zaza Pachulia out for personal reasons and Larry Sanders in foul trouble, the Bucks were in a pinch with respect to big men. They started the fourth quarter by testing a lineup that featured Ersan Ilyasova at center and Jared Dudley at power forward. On defense, that lineup had the potential to pose a self-inflicted challenge for the Bucks, but on offense, it was hell on hardwood.
Between Pachulia, Marshall, Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks had five legitimate marksmen on the floor at the same time, and in Marshall, a point guard who would find them if open.
So when guarded by 6’0″ D.J. Augustin, Marshall backed Augustin down toward the hoop and waited for the defense to react. On the first attempt, he found Ilyasova open up top, and Ersan used the space to draw in the defender, pump fake, and drive for a layup plus a foul. On the second try, Marshall caught the defense helping and fired a one-handed cross-court pass to Middleton for a three-pointer.
At that point, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy took Augustin out of the game, and with Brandon Jennings injured, Van Gundy had no one else to turn to but rookie Spencer Dinwiddie. One might say that Jason Kidd was playing the basketball version of chess at that point.
There are two aspects of the ploy on which every Buck agrees. At Marshall 6’4″, 200 lbs., Marshall is big for a point guard. And as a natural and gifted passer, Marshall has a different motive than most players who set up camp in the paint.
“I think it is something that can be a strength for him,” Jared Dudley noted. “He’s a bigger guard, and he’s stronger than most little point guards. I think that’s something where he has an advantage, and Coach Kidd just puts a lot of confidence in certain players, and for him, (Coach Kidd) has thought that he has had an advantage when we play certain teams, certain guards, whether it be a rookie or an undersized guard he can punish. He’s also a good passer, so when he’s posting up, if he can’t score, he can make a good pass.”
Zaza Pachulia noted that Marshall hasn’t been the only Buck point guard in the post.
“Not only him, but Brandon (Knight) has done it a couple of times. When a smaller guy is guarding Kendall, especially with him being a lefty, he is comfortable and we trust him to make plays — not necessarily only shooting the ball in the post, but a couple of times he found guys cutting for wide-open layups.”
Is it sustainable?
Marshall got his second start of the season (and his first in almost two months) in Atlanta. Assuming that a 30-point win equates to job security, we may see the tactic relegated to a smaller portion of the offense as Marshall joins the starters.
If Marshall continues to start, then his post moves are likely less needed than if he had continued to play with the bench. Putting Marshall in the post — and waiting for the opposing defense to send over a help defender — plays to the strengths of jump shooters like Jared Dudley, Khris Middleton, and Jerryd Bayless. Undeniably, the Bucks have shot the ball better with Marshall on the court than when he’s been on the bench this season.
This chart illustrates lineups that have and have not included Marshall this season:
His post presence may not work as well with Larry Sanders sharing the court with Marshall, as the center would presumably occupy the same painted area as the point guard. Plus, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight can create shots for themselves and don’t rely on being set up as much as some of the bench guys do.
Plus, the undersized/inexperienced point guards most likely to be posted up are found on team’s benches. The starters against whom Marshall will play are a different caliber of player.
If he stays as a starter, we may see less of the post game based on defensive matchups and the styles of his on-court teammates.
Tracing the origins
John Henson, who played with Marshall at the University of North Carolina, isn’t surprised at seeing this style of play from Marshall, even if he didn’t use it there.
“It wasn’t really in the system, but he could go down there. I mean, I’ve seen him do it numerous times, so it’s nothing new for me, but it’s just new to me to see him doing it in the NBA.”
But don’t ask Henson whether he or Marshall has the better lefty hook shot.
“Oh man. I think I’ve got the better lefty hook, but he did hit one from about 15 feet yesterday.
“My percentages might be higher right now,” Marshall added with an eyebrow raised as high as it could possibly go.
“I’m like 4 for 6,” Marshall pleaded.
“We can look that up. Synergy. We’ll see. K., yours isn’t a lefty hook though. It’s like a left floater.”
“It’s like a push shot,” Marshall countered.
Whatever sort of shot it is, it’s working and helping to make Marshall a surprisingly effective post player.