Marshall took strange journey to Bucks, but excited about opportunity
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Either Kendall Marshall was going to get over his fear of failure or the former lottery pick was going to have to accept a short-lived NBA career.
But when you have sunk to the bottom, what’s the point in worrying about failing?
Once basketball was taken away from him, Marshall finally realized he had nothing to lose. All he needed was a team willing to give him an opportunity.
The break Marshall was looking for finally arrived in January of last season when the Los Angeles Lakers plucked him out of the NBA’s Developmental League when their backcourt was devastated by injuries. Although the Lakers waived the point guard after the season, Marshall proved enough to have the Milwaukee Bucks claim him on waivers.
Marshall’s new challenge is to convince the Bucks he’s an asset in the rebuilding project.
"We have a lot of talent across the board," Marshall said. "I think Milwaukee dealt with a series of unfortunate events last year, whether it be injuries and off-court stuff, maybe clashing personalities. This year a lot of that has been nonexistent to this point.
"I’m trying to contribute the best way I can. I’m trying to earn minutes just like the other guys. I’m excited about the opportunity and trying to make the most of it."
The 13th-overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, Marshall played sparingly in his rookie season, averaging just 3.0 points over 14.6 minutes per game in 48 contests. Goran Dragic was Phoenix’s starter at point guard that season, but even Sebastian Telfair was ahead of Marshall on the depth chart.
Despite the Suns being a 57-loss team in 2012-13, Marshall didn’t see any kind of minutes until February. When Marshall did play, he struggled to shoot.
"I used to be so scared just to miss shots," Marshall said. "I try to be so perfect in everything I do. You’ve got to understand that failing is part of the process.
"That’s one thing I had to get through my head. It’s weird because when I was younger I was known as a shooter. That’s what I did. Then I grew six inches, put on 30 pounds and grew into a power point guard."
The following season, Marshall had made it through training camp and felt as if he was going to begin his second season with the Suns when his career took a turn for the worse. Marshall was traded to Washington as part of the Marcin Gortat trade just five days before the start of the 2013-14 regular season.
The Wizards quickly waived Marshall, leaving him out of a job with rosters full throughout the NBA.
"Hindsight being 20-20, I would have loved for them to just have told me earlier that they were trying to move me," Marshall said of the Suns. "But that’s the nature of the business. It’s a beast. It is very cutthroat. You have to understand that you are not always going to be on the winning side of things."
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, Marshall began sick of spending all of his time working out. He wanted to play basketball again. But in order to do so, the 23-year-old had to swallow a bit of pride and head to the D-League.
"I told my agent, ‘Just get me on the court, I don’t care where I’m playing,’" Marshall said. "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 signed a contract with the D-League and was claimed Dec. 3 by the Delaware 87ers, the D-League affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers. In seven games, Marshall averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists, including scoring 31 points with 10 rebounds and nine assists in his debut.
Already down Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake, the Lakers became desperate for help in the backcourt when Kobe Bryant suffered a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee in late December.
Marshall signed with the Lakers on Dec. 20 and was immediately thrown into the rotation.
"I hate to see guys go down, whether it was him (Bryant), Nash, (Jordan) Farmar," Marshall said. "It was somebody new every week.
"Sometimes you just have to get lucky if you are not a superstar."
Playing 38.5 minutes per game in January, Marshall averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists. His playing time decreased as the Lakers began to get healthy, but Marshall averaged 8.1 points and 9.5 assists per game in his 45 starts.
"Getting that call-up from the Lakers, it kind of put things into perspective, that it can be taken away from you as it was," Marshall said. "When I was up there and was just able to be around the guys, I was playing the game that I love again. At that point it was just go out there and have fun. Obviously you want to win and you want to continue to get better, but you want to enjoy it as well."
Looking to clear cap space, the Lakers waived Marshall in July. Los Angeles may have considered bringing the former North Carolina star back had he cleared waivers, but the Bucks prevented that from happening.
With a non-guaranteed contract for under $1 million, Marshall was a low-risk, high-reward waiver claim for the Bucks.
When Marshall found out he was claimed by Milwaukee, the first person he called was former college teammate and close friend John Henson. The two not only played together at North Carolina, but also Marshall spent his freshman year living with Henson, Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock.
All four are now in the NBA, but Henson and Marshall are reunited as teammates once again.
"I’m surprised (he’s bounced around as much as he has)," Henson said. "But then again, point guards in this league are so good right now. I think he will be good for us.
"I think (he’s ready to flourish). His assists are going to come, because that’s what he does. I think it is going to help us out as a team to have a guy like that."
While the point guard spot is crowded in Milwaukee, the Bucks don’t have a player on their roster similar to Marshall. None of the other options at point guard are truly pass-first players, almost a lost mindset in the current NBA.
Marshall’s shot also came around with the Lakers, as he hit 39.9 percent of his 3-point attempts last season after shooting 31.5 percent from beyond the arc with Phoenix.
"His shot is fine," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "He shot the ball well from behind the three (point line) in L.A. It’s not for him to worry about. We want him to make plays. If there’s one where he’s got to let it fly, he’s got to let it fly."
The opportunity to play for Kidd, one of the best playmaking point guards in NBA history, is intriguing to Marshall.
"He mastered what I take pride in, which is getting guys involved, being a leader and running a team," Marshall said. "I just want to pick his brain as much as possible. You can always see little things that he sees on the court that maybe doesn’t register to us right away. If we can learn five percent of what he knows, it will be successful."
The journey Marshall has been on over the first two years of his NBA career almost seems straight out of a movie. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go for the player once thought of as Nash’s successor in Phoenix.
"If I could do it all over again, no, I wouldn’t want to go through it. But it definitely helped me," Marshall said. I’m appreciative just to be here, to still be playing the game that I love and enjoying it.
"I spent a lot of time worrying about stuff I couldn’t control in the past. Now I’m just enjoying the moment, enjoying my teammates, enjoying the opportunity I have in front of me."
Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter