By Anthony Olivieri
There were some very good point guards taken in the 2009 NBA Draft. Ty Lawson is just as good as any of them.
But that wasn’t the prevailing wisdom at the time. Many evaluators believed that Lawson was a one-trick pony – a speed demon who could fly up and down the court to give defenses big-time problems for short periods of time. But he wasn’t a starting floor general.
Lawson slid to the 18th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets behind Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday. Well if you saw Lawson in this season’s NBA playoffs, you saw him light up the Los Angeles Lakers and finish the season averaging 16.4 PPG and 6.6 APG while shooting nearly 49% from the field.
Not bad for a guy that isn’t big enough to play in the NBA.
The latest Tar Heels floor general, Kendall Marshall, is getting the same treatment from many pundits ahead of Thursday’s 2012 NBA Draft. Instead of being too small, Marshall is essentially being told he’s too big as scouts have said the 6-foot-4 guard is not explosive enough to play in the NBA.
But I think that Marshall should be the first point guard off the board, instead of being slotted 14 spots behind Weber State PG Damian Lillard – a more-explosive player who Ford has going to the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 6 overall after averaging 24.5 points in the Big Sky Conference.
You’ve heard of Hollywood logic, right? Well, this is NBA general-manager logic.
Two point guards from the same school have been labeled in a similar fashion despite their games being polar opposites. There were questions as to whether Lawson could run a team in the fashion of a pure point guard; for Marshall, people wonder if he can be more than a traditional point.
And that’s the problem with NBA draft evaluations as I see it. Teams micro-analyze the prospects until they have formed a pie-in-the-sky version of a player who doesn’t exist.
Lawson would have been drafted higher than 18th overall if he were more like Marshall, and Marshall would be the first point guard off the board Thursday if his game more closely resembled that of Lawson.
Sure, Marshall has some holes in his game. He’s not a consistent scorer, only beginning to put the ball in the basket more often late in his sophomore campaign, when he finished with an average of 7.8 PPG. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, he might not be able to defend speedier point guards in the league.
But at the risk of sounding too cliche, you can’t measure Marshall’s worth in a box score – unless that box score has wins and losses.
Consider the plight of the Tar Heels after Marshall went down with a fractured right wrist thanks to a fall during a win over Creighton in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32. The UNC point guard finished with 18 points and 11 assists in that game, but that wasn’t his most-important contribution.
Marshall had successfully taken the reins of the Tar Heels’ star-studded lineup. Future NBA players Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes looked as if they were playing with blind-folds after the injury to Marshall, who got them the ball when and where they needed it.
In fact, it raised questions about both – most specifically, Barnes – since it’s most likely that they will be on their own to get a shot off in the NBA.
So after Marshall injured himself against Creighton, he did not play the rest of the season, which turned out to be just two more contests. What happened to the Tar Heels, the top seed in the Midwest Region? They barely survived with an overtime win over Ohio before losing to Kansas by 13 in the regional final. UNC had 36 assists and 34 turnovers combined in those two games.
But more importantly, UNC lost its identity.
So in an NBA where points guards are physical freaks like Derrick Rose, scoring machines like Deron Williams, pure shooters like Steve Nash or a little bit of it all like Chris Paul, Marshall can be described by none of that.
This is how Marshall is handicapped in part on ESPN.com’s NBA draft profile within the positives section:
-One of the best passers in college basketball
-Sees the floor exceptionally well
-High basketball IQ
-Pure point guard, always looking to set others up
What else can you ask from the man running your team who makes everyone else better?
Often, NBA teams are fooled by players who don’t fall into a position. Consider ex-Arizona G Jerryd Bayless or even talented former Memphis G Tyreke Evans, who seem to be scoring guards more than anything else in the NBA.
Then, there’s ex-Kentucky PG Rajon Rondo, who has shown the Boston Celtics – after being taken with the 21st overall pick in 2006 – that sometimes a player is just one of a kind.
But strangely, that’s not what’s affecting Marshall’s draft stock. We’ve seen players like him before – true, pure passing point guards. That’s normally a reason for a team to select one.
Just ask Ty Lawson.
Anthony Olivieri is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each week.