The Marshall Plan: Kendall Marshall’s Methods Of Distribution

The ball always starts in Kendall Marshall's hands -- but it doesn't stay there for long. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
The ball always starts in Kendall Marshall's hands -- but it doesn't stay there for long. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

The newest member of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kendall Marshall, is a specialist. He is elite at one aspect of the game of basketball, and a bit below average at everything else. If Marshall’s skill set stays as is, his presence on any NBA roster will be defined by the tension between the value he provides with that elite skill, and the net negative value he provides with the other aspects of his game.

Will the pros weigh more than the cons? Since Marshall is on a one-year, non-guaranteed, $0.9 million contract (per ShamSports), the Bucks will have freedom to decide for themselves which half of Marshall’s game outweighs the other.

Marshall’s elite talent is his passing. Playing last year in Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo system, Marshall was in an offense that most definitely complimented his skills. Since Marshall only appeared in 54 games for the Lakers last season, he didn’t qualify for the official assists per game leaderboard, but Marshall had a higher average in that category than anybody except Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, and he was also tied with Ty Lawson and John Wall.

Those other guards are consistent enough scoring threats that a fair amount of their assists come from hitting an open teammate after an opposing defender helps to contain the threat of penetration. By contrast, Marshall must organically create all of his assists. Although he controlled the ball for every possession in the Lakers’ offense, it may not feel like that is the case, as the ball is rarely in his hands for more than a few seconds.

One of the ways Marshall collects these assists is with his supreme vision on the fast break. These are on-target, in-rhythm passes to sprinting teammates that the camera crew can hardly keep up with. Notice how the ball gets beyond the in-position defense thanks to the distance and precision of the pass:

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If no opportunities present themselves on the fast break, Marshall keeps his head up for cutting teammates in semi-transition. Even though all five defenders are back in both of the examples below, Marshall has found a teammate for an open shot mere seconds into the shot clock:

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With all the motion and early cuts, the Lakers’ offense sizzled when Marshall was on the floor, with a 105.7 Offensive Rating. This is the good.

While Marshall showed excellent three-point range last season, connecting 39.9 percent of the time, his ability to create his own shots is suspect, as evidenced by his 41.1 percent accuracy on two-point attempts. Opponents also tend to sizzle when Marshall is on the court, as evidenced by their 111.5 Offensive Rating when Marshall is on the floor. (In fairness to Marshall, the Lakers did not defend a whole lot better when he was off the court.)

One reason that Marshall is an ineffective defender is his total avoidance of all contact. Last year, Marshall averaged 1.7 fouls per 36 minutes, one of the league’s lowest rates. While a high rate of fouls per minute is also undesirable, it’s hard for an NBA player to spend that much time honestly defending in an NBA game without committing some fouls here or there. Marshall also clearly avoids contact on the offensive end: in 1,564 minutes last year, Marshall shot only 36 free throws, an astoundingly low number.

Marshall was a lottery pick in 2012 and now he’s on his fourth team. (He was traded to the Washington Wizards but was cut before appearing in any games.) Any player with that kind of career path is sure to have some unsightly warts to his game. But if the Bucks utilize Marshall in a free, up-tempo system, the awesome and consistent passing will certainly be entertaining, if not also incredibly effective.