Although the Phoenix Suns management and coaching staff have yet to piece together a championship caliber team that can gut it out past 82 games, there is one area you cannot fault them, and that’s finding the perfect point guard.
In 1996 with the 15th overall selection in the NBA Draft, the Suns picked up a little fellow out of Santa Clara University by the name of Steve Nash. This all while securing Jason Kidd from the Mavericks to command the driver’s seat while Nash waited in study. After losing both Nash and Kidd to the trade block, they signed Nash again in 2004, who went on to win multiple MVPs while carrying the franchise to the top of the Pacific Division from 2004-07.
Out goes Steve Nash in the 2012 offseason to quarterback it in Los Angeles alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. In comes Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), recipient of the 2012 Bob Cousy Award.
Are you seeing a pattern? I’m seeing a pattern – and it has nothing to do with the bad astigmatism in my left eye.
For those of us lucky enough to live in ACC country, we become privy to the extraordinary in college basketball. And Kendall Marshall is extraordinary, crushing the all-time ACC record in assists in a single season. This all while being a sophomore. Yes, you read that sentence correctly and you are welcome to read it again. As a sophomore.
Here’s the thing about Kendall Marshall: when UNCs starting point, Larry Drew II, abruptly quit in February of 2011 – and I do mean quit (leaving it up to his dad to call Roy Williams to deliver the news) – on his team following a 106-74 victory over Boston College, Marshall’s star immediately went on the rise, relishing his new unshared role as North Carolina’s floor general. The turnover-prone Tar Heels went on a tear, finishing the season at 29-8 with a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8.
Compare this to their previous year when they finished 20-17 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament, which is about as close to blasphemy (“failed to reach the NCAA Tournament”) as you can get on Tobacco Road.
In the 2011-12 season in which the North Carolina Tar Heels went 32-6 (losing Marshall to a fractured wrist in their win against Creighton), Marshall racked up an astonishing 351 assists to 101 turnovers (3.48 ratio). As Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated points out: Marshall was only thieved of the ball seven times, or 0.4 percent of total possessions played. What’s even more mind boggling is that the Tar Heel point guard was never called for a single traveling or carrying violation. Talk about efficiency and protecting the ball. I can picture Bob Cousy dribbling around in circles in his grave with a smile on his face, proud of his modern day heir.
So here I am, June 28, watching the 2012 NBA Draft live on television. About to scream at my television to be precise. Sure, it is early on but I am viewing team after team pass on Marshall. Then comes the lucky number 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns. Finally, management with a little sense.
You want to know who is a sure thing? Kendall Marshall, barring injury of course.
The NBA is point guard rich these days; or, I should say small guard rich. You have Russell Westbrook and Pistol Pete’s Spanish doppelganger, Ricky Rubio. You’ve got Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo.
In that list, only Rondo, Paul, and Rubio are true points. Let’s call the other guys what they are: scoring guards. Too small to be a shooting guard and too trigger-happy to be a point.
But Kendall Marshall, he’s a point guard. A true point guard. And he’s the future, sure enough, for not only the Phoenix Suns but the NBA.
Goran Dragic isn’t a slouch. Give the man credit and give the Suns credit for knowing this too, which is why they signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year/$34 million deal in the offseason. With that said, it’s only a matter of time before Marshall gets his chance and Dragic’s sun sets and a new sun rises. Let’s just hope the Phoenix Suns don’t make the same mistake twice by letting one slip out the door, as they did with Steve Nash in 1998. They were lucky to land Nash again in 2004 after letting him walk the first time. They might not be that lucky with Marshall; but like he showed us on Tobacco Road with Larry Drew II’s departure, a freshman can step up and a sophomore season can make for quite the stellar performance.
Don’t be foolish and overlook this kid. He has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a knack for the game the NBA only sees once or twice in a decade.
Sometimes the number 13 ain’t such a bad number after all.