When the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics met at the Staples Center on Friday night most outside observers expected a relatively dull game. Fortunately enough for all involved this did not happen, as the players on both teams brought great intensity to the game, which was only matched by the fans who were enjoying what turned out to be a 102-91 Lakers’ win. And while there were a number of players who deserved praise on the night, none is more deserving than Kendall Marshall, who should undoubtedly be the recipient of the NBA Most Improved Player Award.
Marshall did not have a particularly noteworthy impact in terms of scoring against the Celtics, as he only managed five points, eight assists, four rebounds and one steal in 25 minutes of action. And while this doesn’t jump out as being anything spectacular, it was the way that the point guard played that was thoroughly impressive.
Throughout the game Marshall was great with the ball in his hands, as he seemed to have a gut instinct of where his teammates were going to be at any point on the court. This feel for where everyone else was, led to the point guard making some passes through holes that were seemingly nonexistent, and made the pick and roll with Pau Gasol extremely effective. When you add onto this an ability to move the ball by himself — through both impeccable dribbling ability and above-average speed — you have a point guard that seems to be the complete package.
Of course as early as the beginning of the current season it appeared that Marshall was on a path to nowhere in professional basketball, as he opened the year with the Delaware 87ers of the D-League after being waived by the Washington Wizards. This came only one season after he was drafted 13th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns, and went on to be overwhelmed by the bright lights of the NBA.
And while some people would react horribly from seeing their career go from lottery pick to D-League player in only 1.5 years, Marshall took the opportunity to better himself. Within a month of player in Delaware he was signed by the Lakers, and he has averaged 10.7 points, 9.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds through 27 games, while also shooting 47.6 percent from three-point range. The difference in play from Marshall’s time with the Suns is tangible, as he seems to have found a stroke of confidence under the tutelage of the Lakers’ head coach Mike D’Antoni, and he has thrived under his wide open system.
No longer is he wary of utilizing his abnormal shooting motion, driving after defenders or generally handing the ball; this has been a positive for both the Lakers and the player. The organization has rewarded this success by trading away Steve Blake and giving the 22-year-old the opportunity to become the long-term solution at point guard. After watching his ascent during the current season it is hard to bet against Marshall accomplishing this, and there is surely no player who is more deserving of the NBA Most Improved Player Award than him.