LA Lakers Wasting Kendall Marshall's Breakthrough with Terrible Defense

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

Jan 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendall Marshall (12) celebrates after a 3-point basket in the final minute against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Jazz 110-99. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday night could have been a real feel-good story for Kendall Marshall. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Lakers’ abysmal defense against an average team sank the ship.

The Denver Nuggets beat the Lakers, 137-115. Considering just how bad things have been for the Purple and Gold lately, there are some positive takeaways—at least for a draft bust recently called up from the D-League.

Marshall had 17 assists against the Nuggets on Sunday in just his second start for the Lakers. On Friday, he had 15 assists against the Utah Jazz, along with 20 points. At least that one was a win.

From the Associated Press for ESPN, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni had this to say about the loss:

It's tough. There's no sugarcoating it. We're in a hole, and we put ourselves in this hole. We'll get guys coming back (from injury). We just have to keep playing hard, keep your head down, go through it.

From the same source, Marshall also mentioned the obvious:

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"I think we kind of unraveled a bit, and they kept coming and kept scoring and kept hitting difficult shots.”

At least Marshall is now back in the NBA. If only the injury-plagued Lakers hadn’t been out-rebounded by 20 on Sunday. If only they hadn’t given up 30 fast-break points.

The game started on a positive note at least, with three of Pau Gasol’s field goals coming off assists from Marshall. Gasol had an active first quarter with 12 points, finishing the night with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Marshall had five assists in the first quarter alone.

The Lakers went into halftime with a one-point lead. Unfortunately, the wheels came off the bus in the second half. The Lakers were outscored by 11 points in the third quarter and 12 points in the fourth.

On the other hand, the Lakers’ defense in the second half resembled a leaky sieve. There’s a reason they’re ranked 28th in the league in points allowed. The team managed to offset some of their defensive deficiencies earlier in the season with lights out three-point shooting, but not tonight—they were 3-for-21 from long distance, often resulting in points at the other end of the floor. 

Adding to the woes is the realization that the Lakers have lost six of their last seven games, including losses to the Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks—the two worst teams in the NBA. In fact, their only recent win was also against the Jazz. You win some and you lose a lot more, apparently.

Marshall wouldn’t be a Laker if not for an extraordinary run of bad point guard luck. Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar are all sidelined with injuries. Kobe Bryant tried his hand running the point and promptly fractured his shin just six games into his much anticipated comeback. Xavier Henry, another shooting guard trying to play the point, is out with a bone bruise.

Enter the No. 13 pick in the 2012 draft for the Phoenix Suns. Marshall managed to average three points a game through 48 games for the Suns last season and that was all she wrote. Most recently, he was lighting it up for the Delaware 87ers at nearly 20 points per game, enough to attract the attention of a Lakers team that had exactly no point guards left to toss into D’Antoni’s point guard-centric offense.

Kevin Ding, for Bleacher Report, wondered if Marshall could be D’Antoni’s next Jeremy Lin, noting that both came out of the D-League into the most trying of circumstances.

“It’s a big moment for somebody in their life,” D’Antoni said. 'Do I go back to the D-League or I stay up in the NBA?’ That’s a lot of pressure.”

According to Ding, the Lakers’ coach also considered a more positive side of Marshall’s job security:  

“When you’re the only point guard, you’re not really looking over your shoulder, because you kind of know that it’s going to be me…or me.”

So far this season, every player on the Lakers roster save Ryan Kelly, has started at least one game. That’s a lot of lineups and it doesn’t make for any kind of continuity, from a defensive point of view or otherwise. Marshall’s 32 assists over the last two games look pretty bright until you realize that the team's negating his work with careless turnovers and poor help defense.

If the Lakers have been losing to bad teams recently, now they get to face some good ones with upcoming games against the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers. For a fourth-string point guard on a minimum salary contract, however, it could be a golden opportunity—Kendall Marshall is a virtual assist machine.

It’s too bad his NBA breakthrough is being wasted by terrible defense.