PHOENIX — In their vigorous and pretty convincing pledge of an allegiance to draft pick Kendall Marshall, the Suns are accentuating the P’s instead of the Q’s.
The Q’s are questions — such as the absence of elite foot speed or a sniper-level shooting touch — that enabled the Suns to have a shot at drafting college basketball’s top distributor with the 13th selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
The P’s are what the franchise’s personnel evaluators are leaning on to patently ignore the criticism some national reviewers are leveling at what’s considered another “safe” pick by the Suns.
“There was no player in the draft that epitomized those five P’s more than Kendall,” president of basketball operations Lon Babby said during Friday’s press conference to introduce the sophomore point guard from North Carolina.
The essential P’s are (in no order of perceived importance): Preparation, poise, perseverance, pride and performance. But while we’re stuck in an alliterative maze, it should be noted that the 20-year-old, 6-foot-4 lefty brings a few other prominent P’s to town:
Passing: He averaged 9.8 dimes per game during his final season with the Tar Heels.
Passion: According to important witnesses, the kid loves to play.
Phoenix: Even though he arrived on a day when the thermometer would scream past 110 degrees, Marshall said he was thrilled to be here.
Posse: We’re pretty certain he doesn’t have one, unless bringing the parents, kid sister and agent to your first NBA press conference qualifies as rollin’ with a posse.
But Marshall does have something else that has kept a grin on the face of Suns general manager Lance Blanks since Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
“He has the ‘it’ factor,” Blanks said. “He has a great sense of who he is.”
Who Marshall is, according to various NBA scouts and personnel executives interviewed in the days leading up to the draft, is a player capable of making the right play at the right time, creating a tempo that matches what the coaching staff requires while providing leadership on and off the court.
“I think I can thrive in that system,” Marshall said of the Suns’ offensive structure, which has retained popular elements of Mike D’Antoni’s tactics.
The league’s personnel sharpies and TV analysts never hesitate to mention the Q’s regarding his lack of NBA-level explosiveness or his unlikelihood of winning a 3-point derby.
But Marshall does possess a quality that, in some cases, may be even more important. He’s mentally quick, using his fast-twitch brain to anticipate required plays. It’s a somewhat-underappreciated skill that has been appreciated here during the dazzling run of Steve Nash, the superstar Marshall might be replacing in a couple of weeks … or a couple of years.
“I think it’s all about the team,” Marshall said when asked to define his approach to the game.
And regardless of whether Nash re-signs during the free-agent scrum that begins Sunday or leaves a gaping hole in the Suns’ pass-delivery system, Marshall is prepared to do whatever is necessary.
“It’s something I have no control over,” he said of learning from Nash or taking over from him.
With little or no influence over where he was drafted, either, Marshall — whose personality quickly jibed with those in the organization — only cares about the control he has with the ball in his hands in an offense that’s not too much unlike the one he ran in Chapel Hill.
“It’s the best scenario,” he said. “This is exactly where I wanted to be.”
For a team whose lack of a late-game go-to scorer has been a huge reason two consecutive postseasons have come and gone without a stop in Phoenix, Marshall does not represent immediate assistance in that department.
Sure, if Nash leaves, it makes sense to have another passer capable of making things easier for players who aren’t great in one-on-one situations (even if that passer is a rookie). But what about a coaching staff whose leader, Alvin Gentry, is entering his final year under contract and might have preferred that draft-eligible scoring help? Well, those scoring types were gone by the 13th pick. And any potential acrimony was deflected by Gentry, who joined Babby, Blanks and Marshall in a united front during Friday’s presser.
“You often hear the expression of someone being a players’ coach,” Gentry said when asked about Marshall. “Well, he’s a coach’s player. He’s almost like having a coach on the floor.”
A different coach on the floor — a 38-year-old, Hall of Fame-bound one — would presumably make Gentry’s seat feel a little more secure … especially if that coach on the floor is assisted in the lineup by upgraded scoring potential. But the Suns spent their public time Friday hammering home the point that free-agency comings and goings do not dictate draft decisions, making Marshall the right player at the right time.
“At the end of the day, I really wanted him and everyone else really wanted him,” Gentry said. “I think it’s going to be a great fit.”