PHOENIX — For NBA Draft fanatics attempting to strut their self-assessed expertise, the Phoenix Suns’ first-round selection at pick 13 was expected to come down to a productive wing or a prayer for someone dynamic at another position.
In choosing North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall on Thursday evening, the Suns didn’t exactly provoke expectations of future, replay-worthy acrobatics or fancy marksmanship.
“We did not get Kendall for his athleticism … and Kendall knows that,” Suns general manager Lance Blanks said. “We got him for his brain and for his ability to make people around him better and who he is in the locker room.”
Around these parts, that sounds pretty familiar.
Although the Suns didn’t draft Marshall for his shooting prowess, either, his ability to pass the ball may be the eventual tonic for a team three days away from watching Steve Nash skip into unrestricted free agency.
“Don’t read too far into this with free agency,” said Blanks, referencing automatic cause-effect assumptions that the selection of Marshall portends the loss of Nash.
Marshall, speaking to Phoenix reporters on a conference call, is ready to roll regardless of future point-guard circumstances.
“Either or,” Marshall said when asked if he prefers learning behind Nash or having considerable playing time from the jump. “I feel he’s one of the best to ever do it. At the end of the day, it’s something I have no control over.”
And we’re also advised not to assume that Marshall became the choice after the Suns’ interest in drafting a perimeter player with the ability to score was wrecked when everyone fitting that description — Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, Jeremy Lamb in rapid fire at 4, 8, 10 and 12 — had been claimed through pick No. 12.
“We are ecstatic … as happy as we were last year,” Blanks, harking back to that joyous evening when Markieff Morris was chosen at 13. “Looking at our board and who was there at the 13th pick, that (Marshall) was the guy we were targeting all along.”
With the unrestricted-free-agent yield looking fairly light on wing players with in-their-prime scoring chops, bringing Marshall to Phoenix may do little to immediately assist the Suns’ continued fight for a playoff spot. If Nash returns, Marshall seemingly will have a wider learning curve while playing limited minutes behind the league’s foremost playmaking role model.
If Nash leaves, Marshall may be required to play big minutes on a team that — unless an unexpected bonanza is struck in free agency — could struggle to win. Quite a few Suns fans (those pining for a high lottery pick in 2013) might not mind.
It also should be noted that even though the Suns landed the player their GM said they were targeting, Blanks admitted that they did consider trading up.
“We considered it, we had an opportunity or two, but we felt it just wasn’t worth what we had to give up to get there,” he said.
Marshall’s worth has little to do with his lack of blazing speed or jackrabbit quickness. He wasn’t coveted for averaging 8.1 points per game as a sophomore playing with three other first-round picks.
The 6-foot-4 lefty will be here because he’s generally regarded as the best passer (9.8 assists per game) to hit college basketball in a while.
“Decision-making is one of my best attributes,” Marshall said.
With two pre-draft workouts in Phoenix, Marshall also figured he was on the Suns’ short list.
“It was hot … it was extremely hot,” Marshall said of his Arizona visits. “But I think it’s something I can get used to.”
Unless the Suns make a deep playoff run, excessive heat won’t be much of a concern. Anyway, while auditioning in the air-conditioned confines of the US Airways Center practice court, Marshall’s presence — coupled with his two-year body of work — did little to disappoint the franchise brass.
“The first workout went very well,” Marshall said. “The second one didn’t go quite as well, but I hoped I did enough to make a good impression. I felt there was a great vibe between us.”
Based on the reaction of their general manager, that goes double for the Suns.
“Kendall represents where we are as an organization,” Blanks said. “He’s a winner. He’s exactly what we want here … a winner. This young man is very special in every way.”