After running the offense for the second most talented team in the country last season, point guard Kendall Marshall decided to join the mass exodus of talent from North Carolina and enter the 2012 NBA draft. Despite being an early entry player, he's about as near complete development as any player in the draft.
As with any successful Roy Williams point guard, Marshall was able to push the tempo and spread the ball to his talented teammates. But unlike Ray Felton and Ty Lawson before him, he didn't do it with superior athleticism. Instead, he did it with uncanny court vision and ability to put his teammates in the best position to score.
While Marshall has good size at the point (6'4", 200 pounds), he does not have the athletic gifts required to defend NBA point guards, getting blown by against high level college guards with some regularity. Compounding his athletic deficiency is his relatively pedestrian 6'5" wingspan -- as a comparison, the draft's other top point guard prospect, Damian Lillard, measured at a shade over 6'2" but with a 6'8" wingspan.
Marshall's considerable athletic shortcomings are also evident on the offensive end. When attempting to penetrate, he is a straight line driver, almost always relying on a hard left-handed drive to attack. Once he gets going, he is forced to commit or dribble out, showing little to no ability to change direction in tight spaces against quick defenders. When he does manage to get a step on his man, Marshall shows almost no lift to finish, frequently being either caught from behind or finding trouble as he gets near the basket. These shortcomings are fairly plain to see. And while it is against some of the highest level competition at the college level, most of the guys he played against will be going pro in something other than sports.
Despite the athletic obstacles he faces almost every time he takes the floor, Marshall was one of the best point guards in college basketball and one of my favorite college players this past year. He won't blow anyone away with his physical gifts, but he sees everything and knows how to make his teammates successful on the offensive end of the floor. While his predecessors Felton and Lawson pushed the tempo with lightning fast speed, Marshall throws pinpoint 3/4 court passes with ease. He sees things developing on the floor and delivers the ball where it needs to be.
Perhaps equally impressive is his awareness of his teammates' games. He knows where they want the ball and where they can best be effective. When he passes the ball it's not hurried or as a last resort. He moves the ball with purpose and raises the level of the entire team on offense.
While Marshall gets knocked for his shooting ability, he's truly an average to above average shooter. His outside shot is more of a set shot, but he has consistent mechanics and doesn't take many ill advised shots. In sum, he's the consummate pass-first point guard who can dictate the pace of a game with his feel for the game and passing ability.
Some draft "gurus" have opined that Marshall won't slide past the Mavericks at 17, but the front office is too smart to invest in a Jason Kidd (current version) who's running up against his ceiling in terms of potential. For a team with a single legitimate perimeter defender and no Tyson Chandler in the middle to compensate (read: the Mavericks), Marshall is simply too great a defensive liability. Even if Deron Williams doesn't feel inclined to play savior for the Mavs, it would be hard for the team to justify using a pick in the teens on a player like Marshall.