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College player development, the NBA and imperfections


Mike Miller

Khyle Marshall’s primed for a solid career at Butler. But what’s that mean for his future?

The freshman forward helped the Bulldogs to a second-straight appearance in the NCAA championship game last spring, providing an energetic presence off the bench, usually in the form of a guy who grabbed every offensive rebound in sight.

He spent an earlier part of the summer with Team USA’s U19 squad at the FIBA World Championships playing – what else – a guy who came off the bench and provided a spark, usually in the form of grabbing offensive rebounds. In nearly 14 minutes a game, he snagged three rebounds an outing and 27 in all. But most (14) were on the offensive end.

Marshall might’ve seen more time, too. If only he thrived in the open-court style of international play, which couldn’t be further from how Butler plays.

This brings me to an article by Brett Koremenos of, detailing how the development of college players at their particular program doesn’t always translate into preparing them for the NBA.

Case in point? Marshall. At 6-fooot-7 and 210 pounds, he has the frame of an NBA small forward. But he plays power forward at Butler.
Thus the rub:

Matt Howard was able to develop a serviceable 3-point shot in his four years with the university, so through hard work, Marshall could theoretically do the same. But standing on the perimeter and being able to make standstill 20ft jumpers hardly complete the skill set of an NBA 3. While at Butler, Marshall will be asked to screen on and off the ball, perform dribble handoffs on the perimeter, make rim runs in transition, and crash the offensive glass. Stevens, being the excellent coach that he is, will spend his limited skill development time drilling the techniques Khyle needs to succeed in his role. That means relatively little instruction will be devoted to improving his ball handling and ability to attack the rim from the perimeter, reading screens, or wing movement in transition.

That is just a brief glimpse at how Marshall’s college years affect his offensive development. Guarding the post for Butler will also stunt his development defensively. Marshall will spend very little time defending explosive wings on the perimeter and little to no time improving simple nuances like fighting through the screen on and off the ball.

Koremenos is correct is how Marshall will be used, but is careful not to heap any blame uopon Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens. Stevens, after all, is using Marshall as he best sees fit in Butler’s system. That system is hardly broken. But Koremenos’ larger point is to take issue with those who say the college game is the best way to prepare players for the NBA.

Marshall, he asserts, won’t get that at Butler.

In strict skills development, maybe not. Marshall’s unlikely to grow much more and develop a power forward’s body, which means ball-handling and perimeter game will almost certainly need to improve to become an NBA player. But those aren’t the only things he needs for the NBA. Butler provides the others.

He’ll learn how to play. He’ll learn the game’s nuances, poise in high-pressure situations and he’ll learn how to defend several different types of players (Butler’s guys always do, especially in March Madness).

But mostly, I’m amazed more isn’t made of Marshall’s biggest strength: His offensive rebounding.

Teams crave offensive rebounders. Not everyone’s willing to fight for those misses and not everyone does it as well as Marshall. He’s not incredibly undersized, nor is he simply chasing down loose balls. Marshall grabs rebounds. It;s that simple. And he’s still young!

Butler’s system may not be the perfect NBA factory, but what is? No school produces sure-fire pros. It’s more about the players and what they’re willing to do.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.