Kendall Marshall and Damian Lillard are both point guard, but that’s where the similarities end.
Marshall is the steady floor general – a pass-first playmaker who had more assists (9.8) than points (8.1) per game last season as the creator for the talent-laden North Carolina Tar Heels.
Lillard is tougher to get a grasp on, based on his do-it-all career as the first (and, really, only) scoring option as a member of the mid-major Weber State Wildcats. What we do know is that he is a fast-rising competitor with an NBA-ready shot who is coming off a four-year college career.
Awkward as comparisons between the two very different players may be, they are inherently necessary for lottery teams who may be in need of point guard help, such as the Toronto Raptors.
Executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski, the designated team voice after draft workouts on Tuesday involving the two prospects, stopped short of drawing any comparisons, but highlighted their inherent differences in describing Marshall and Lillard individually.
“[Marshall's] basketball IQ is very, very good and he sees the floor well,” says Stefanski of the North Carolina product.
On Lillard, the former Nets’ and Sixers’ GM focused on an entirely different set of qualities.
“He’s a tough kid – he competes,” says Stefanski. “He comes from a smaller school than these other guys and I think that’s part of his competition and his willingness to work hard.”
That’s not to say that Marshall isn’t tough, nor does it suggest that Lillard isn’t a smart basketball player. It does, however, speak to the difficulties of the whole draft process, particularly when agents typically don’t allow for one-on-one workouts between similarly-projected players.
For example, Marshall appeared in an afternoon session against lower-rated prospects like Devoe Joseph, while Lillard’s workout saw him fly solo.
While they didn’t go up against one another on Tuesday (in a literal sense, anyway), they are both battling heavy scrutiny over perceived areas of weakness through the draft workout process.
For Marshall, the Toronto stop marked his first workout coming off a wrist injury that was actually revealed to be an elbow injury.
“I fractured my elbow as well,” acknowledges Marshall. “The doctors never looked at it until about three weeks ago, so it was a late development. I wish I could’ve started my rehab earlier, but thankfully it’s not something that would’ve took surgery, so it’s just a matter of time.”
The 20-year-old isn’t in denial about the effects of the injury, but he is encouraged by its early progress and believes that he should be ready to go sooner rather than later.
“It felt pretty good,” replies Marshall when asked about the arm after Tuesday’s workout. “Obviously there’s still some soreness, some pain, but I’m able to get through it. My conditioning isn’t where I want it to be, but it’s still at a good level so I’m excited about moving forward from here.”
For Lillard, it’s a question of competition – specifically how the level of competition he faced at Weber State will translate in the pros. The Wildcats, after all, went 14-2 in the notoriously weak Big Sky Conference last season before dropping the Conference championship 85-66 to Montana. Although, to be fair, the loss can’t be blamed on the 22-year-old, who tallied 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the game.
While Marshall played with three other potential lottery picks (Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller), Lillard feels that he was able to develop a multifaceted game by being a do-it-all player. He does, however, acknowledge that it’ll be nice to take a slightly scaled back role on a more balanced NBA club.
“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Lillard admits,” not having a huge responsibility and having to carry a team. I can show off other parts of my game.”
With no point guard expected to go in the top five and only two likely to be lottery picks come June 28, the ‘one’ isn’t exactly a strong position heading into the deep 2012 draft. No wonder, then, that the two top players at the position both face significant unresolved questions.
How Marshall and Lillard answer those questions will speak volumes of their maturity and preparation as NBA players.