The stream of text messages filled Kendall Marshall’s inbox as quickly as one of his timely passes and as frequently as one of his clutch baskets.
Marshall had just finished posting 20 points and 15 assists in the Lakers’ 110-99 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, and the significance went beyond ending the team’s six-game losing streak. This marked his first career start as a Laker. This marked a temporary solution to an ailing backcourt that misses six point guards. This marked a moment of opportunity as Marshall toiled this season in the Development League after spending last season in Phoenix as a first-round washout from North Carolina.
So naturally, the text messages from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, Jazz guard and former UNC product Marvin Williams and other unspecified friends and teammates all offered encouraging words. William’s over-night growth on his Twitter account that he estimated an additional 8-9,000 followers also illustrates the buzz he created with the Lakers. But there was one message that popped out to him the most. It came from his mother, Kim, but the words hardly matched the usual parental praise.
“The only text I got back from my mom was she sent me a video clip and told me to stop cursing,” Marshall recalled after Saturday’s practice at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “They caught me on the bench saying some things. I guess I have to watch my mouth now.”
If that’s the only thing to critique surrounding Marshall’s game, the Lakers will gladly take it.
After all, Marshall became the first Laker to post 20 points and 15 assists since Kobe Bryant did so in 2002. Marshall’s one turnover marked significant growth from the four he posted in his Lakers debut nearly two weeks ago. Marshall’s crisp passes and clutch shots added an offensive rhythm that appeared severely lacking in the Lakers’ six-game losing streak.
“We can get better from here,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s a good pace. He might not have those numbers all the time. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. But the rhythm is something he gives us that is important.”
Still, Marshall seems hardly satisfied.
He immediately watched film and observed how his ball movement flattened in the second half and played a large part in Utah chipping away a double-digit deficit. He sounded aware of the need to prove he can build on his opening act. When the Lakers (14-19) play the Denver Nuggets (15-17) on Sunday at Staples Center, Marshall will have the unenviable task of defending speedy guard Ty Lawson.
“It starts with the team obviously with myself,” Marshall said. “But we have to do a great job as a team. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can guard him one on one. I’m excited about the challenge.”
To do that, Marshall has stayed humble.
He peppers the Lakers’ injured backcourt, namely Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar, with questions. Marshall would do the same to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash if they weren’t endlessly floating in and out of treatment on their respective knee and back injuries. He also has a family that sounds pretty well versed in giving him honest feedbak steimming from his playing days at Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, Va. and North Carolina.
“My mom sends me shooting clips telling me I need to work on stuff,” Marshall said. “I use that as motivation. My sister tells me she scored more points in her [rec league] game than me. I’ll use that as motivation.”
There’s other things that motivate him.
After Phoenix selected him with the 13th pick in the 2012 Draft, Marshall was sent to the Wizards in a trade. Washington then cut him before the season started, leaving the 22-year-old former North Carolina product toiling with the Delaware 87ers of the NBA’s Development League.
Marshall still has a contract worth $547,570 that doesn’t become fully guaranteed until after Jan. 10 should he stay on the roster. He remains hopeful he can follow the path of former Tar Heel Danny Green, who toiled in the NBA only to find a niche last season with the San Antonio Spurs. Regardless of how it plays out, Marshall argues his hunger and humble approach to the game won’t change.
“I still feel like I’m fortunate I get to play basketball for a living,” Marshall said. “When I was in high school and played at Chris Paul’s camp, that’s one thing he stressed to us. He’s humbled by the fact that everyday he gets to wake up and do something he would do for free. That really hit me in high school and I stuck to that since then.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org