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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Court Vision: Looking into the Future with Kendall Marshall

The first time I saw Kendall Marshall was his junior year in high school. The setting - Wise High School in front of his future coach Roy Williams. He was pitted against fellow North Carolina commit, Reggie Bullock in what was a can't miss game. The game got off to a bad start for Marshall's O'Connell squad, and with 5:31 left in the third quarter they were staring at a 45-29 deficit. Sitting a row behind O'Connell's bench, I was infatuated with watching how this young kid handled himself. There was something about him that was hard to explain, but he remained calm in every huddle, while the fire was still apparent in his eyes. He was a quiet leader - a guy who was well liked and didnt need to raise his voice for respect.

Coming out of a timeout midway through the third quarter, after receiving instructions from Joe Wootten (son of Morgan Wootten), Marshall and his troops began to make a run. Marshall was in complete control of the game, much in the way you think of him now at North Carolina, making all the right passes and decisions.

When people question whether Marshall is a product of the players around him, I think back to his high school days. His team had some talent, but they weren't in the same league as Oak Hill, DeMatha, Montrose, etc. Their 6-5 post players received some low major interest, but that was it. Still, Marshall led that team to some great wins, including the game against Bullock, which they eventually won 71-64. Marshall's stat line?

11 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds.

He battled the taller and more athletic Bullock the whole game, holding him to 17 point on a host of shots. After the game, Wootten called Marshall's defense on Bullock "tremendous" and mentioned that he contested every shot.

You see, Marshall does a lot more offensively then what meets the eye. Assists and turnovers aren't a complete measure on point guard play. There are other ways to set up your teammates than using quickness to get into the lane and draw defenders. Marshall is living proof of that. If you didnt know that before, watching him play will force you to believe that basketball is more than skills and athleticism. That is the only way to explain Marshall's impact on the game. How exactly does he do it?

Well, being a good passing point guard is more than simply being a good passer and seeing the court.

In George Dohrmann's must-read book "Play Their Hearts Out", Demetrius Walker's high school coach scolded the star after his teammate dropped one of his passes. He yanked him from the game and asked him why he threw the pass. The pass was on target and could have been caught, but the coach made a point that Walker knew his unskilled teammate was incapable of making that kind of play. Part of being a point guard is knowing your teammates limitations and putting them in position to succeed. You can make flashy passes to make yourself look good, but it doesn't mean they are good passes. Kendall Marshall gets that.

Knowing your teammates is one thing, knowing the game of basketball is another. Without great physical tools, Marshall has to find other ways to get his teammates open looks. While being guarded, Marshall will often drive at a different defender guarding a teammate, forcing that defender to hedge over to Marshall. That creates all the opening Marshall needs to deliver a pass. In basketball, the skip pass seems to be a dying term. Used correctly like Marshall does, it can keep the defense off-balance and in constant rotation. Those are two things right there that he does as good as any other college player. Hockey assists. Quick and correct decisions. Feeding the ball into the post. If you want to define the term true point, use a guy like Marshall who knows how to play the game, not someone who uses his athleticism to get all his assists and dribbles the air out of the ball.

His offensive game is going to draw comparisons with Jason Kidd and Ricky Rubio. Kidd was an absolute stat sheet stuffer in high school. He was on a different level than Marshall athletically. Still, it is easy to see who Marshall patterns his game after.

As for Rubio, I suspect this example to be used a lot by people justifying taking him in the lottery. The both aren't athletically gifted, but are almost prodigious with their understanding of the game of basketball. Neither can shoot very well. Where Rubio has the advantage is defensively. Marshall has short arms, while Rubio sports a nice wingspan. Rubio has quick hands and generates a lot of steals. He also is faster and gets to the basketball better. If Marshall waits to declare until after Rubio has played in the NBA, I can see his success being a factor. If Rubio ends up being great, there is hope for Kendall.

Of course, Marshall has plenty of limitations which could explain how he understands the nuances of the game better than anyone else - he has no choice. He's not a good shooter. He can't jump. He has short arms. His dribble is too high at times which hurts him driving through traffic. He lacks strength. Athletically, he is like a Marcus Williams (UCONN) or Greivis Vasquez. Defense will be a struggle no matter how much effort he puts in.

These are all the things he can't do. This is what scouts will point at whenever he decides to entering the draft. It has the making of the always classic, "its not what you can't do, its what you CAN do", theorem. The debate on Marshall is going to be tough and may go on for three more years. He is such a tough prospect to judge whether or not he will be successful, it seems many draft pundits want to put it on the back burner and hope they get a few more years to evaluate.

Call me crazy, but I have faith in him.

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