In the years spanning from 1980-1999, a total of 25 Iowa basketball players were selected in the NBA draft, including five first round picks. The style of play and intense atmosphere created by coaches and fans made for an environment that bred pro-caliber talent on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, this stretch of 20 years was also the most successful period in the history of Iowa basketball.
Unfortunately, a disturbing trend developed at the start of the new millennium that has continued ever since. In the last 14 years only one Hawkeye player has heard his name called on draft night, second round selection Adam Haluska in 2007.
Somewhat predictably, the past decade plus has seen the Hawkeye program go through some of its most tumultuous peaks and valleys ever. While three different coaches and styles over that period may not seem like a lot to some other programs, if you follow Iowa athletics than you know coaching longevity has become the norm rather than the exeception across all sports since the early 80’s.
The unusual instability surrounding Iowa basketball was simply not conducive to attracting nor developing players that would have a chance to play at basketball’s highest level.
However, that disturbing reality seems to be changing in a hurry under the direction of fourth-year head coach Fran McCaffery. An infusion of talent and player development in the Hawkeye program has led to the real opportunity for future NBA players to rise from the Iowa City campus.
The latest and best hope for an Iowa player to reach the league via the draft is senior guard Devyn Marble.
The Southfield, Michigan native and son of former 1989 first round draft pick Roy Marble (Iowa’s all-time scoring leader) has showcased his abilities to the point that his name is being thrown around in NBA executive circles. This in itself is an accomplishment for both Marble and the Iowa program, which in years past was mostly ignored by pro scouts (and for good reason).
Now before detailing the traits that could get Marble drafted in the coming months, let me qualify my point of view by saying that he is very unlikely to go in the first round and may not even be drafted at all. Rather, my intention is to show that he is carrying the torch if you will, for current and future Hawkeyes to be given a hard look by NBA teams entering draft night.
Marble’s greatest asset is his versatility. Listed between 6-6 and 6-7, he has played and started at the one, two and three positions for Iowa over the course of his career. While he would most likely project as a “2” at the NBA level, Marble has proven himself to be capable of impacting games from various positions in one of the premier basketball conferences in America.
The senior currently leads the Hawkeyes in points, assists, and steals all while playing just under 26 minutes per game. Marble might not jump off the page in any single statistical category, but his cumulative contributions on both ends of the floor make him a valuable member of any team that he is on.
Marble does work on the offensive end with and without the basketball, either running off of screens or breaking his man down off the dribble. Although he possesses merely average athleticism for his position, it’s his length that allows him to be so effective wherever he moves on the court.
With his height and long arms Marble has no trouble getting his shot off over more athletic opponents. He has a high release point on his jumper, and likes to utilize pull-ups and step-backs to create space to score. When Marble drives to the basket he is very savvy at avoiding charging fouls and finishing around the hoop with either hand.
When he is completely locked in, Marble maintains a tight handle on the basketball even when faced with quicker defenders. His nearly 3:1 assist to turnover ratio is a product of his willingness to find an open teammate when his shot is not there.
His high basketball IQ is evident in that he has the ability to diagnose the flow of a game and adjust his style of play accordingly. A great example of this could be seen at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament played over Thanksgiving weekend. In a first round come-from-behind win against a solid Xavier squad, Marble took over a large stretch of the game (despite a severe leg cramp) to the tune of 30 points as his teammates struggled to make baskets. The following night, UTEP tried a variety of defenses (box-and-1, triangle-and-2, etc.) to take him out the game. Instead of forcing his own shots, Marble calmly dished out six first half assists en route to a 25 point lead at the break.
Marble’s defense has also made a noticeable leap in his senior season. Once again he utilizes his superior length to swipe 2.2 steals per game despite the fact that he commits less than one foul on average. His ability to make an impact without fouling enhances his value on both ends of the floor.
Now that I’ve highlighted the good, let’s take a look at the areas of concern and improvement that will be pointed out by NBA scouts.
Shooting percentage will likely be the main focus when critiquing Marble’s game. For his career he currently sits at just below 42% from the field and 33% from 3.
The knock will be that a player without above-average athleticism should be able to compensate offensively by hitting a high percentage of open looks. This is not to say that Marble is a poor shooter, but rather that consistency is what executives often look for in a case like his.
He is also shooting just under 66% from the foul line this season, though I’d consider it to be much more of an aberration than anything else (Marble improved in this area in each of his first three years, shooting 81% as a junior).
Scouts will probably also question whether he has the ability to stayed in front of the elite 2’s and 3’s in the league on the defensive end of the floor. Marble tips the scales at around 200lbs, so there could be concern as to whether or not he can match the physicality of such players.
I’m of the opinion that this Michigan native can improve upon most, if not all of the weaknesses in his game. When it comes to shooting from any part of the floor, it’s often wise to consider significant improvement as a possibility.
People tend to forget that the NBA is a 24/7 occupation. Without college classes and other academic events filling the schedule, a player like Marble is afforded for the first time in their life a chance to focus purely on basketball.
Specifically when it comes to shooting, I think Marble has the foundation to do what it takes to become a reliable NBA shooter. His form is not at all broken, but rather needs the fine-tuning and constant repetition that an NBA coaching staff can provide him.
As for the defensive end of the floor, Marble is never going to possess the sheer athleticism and body type necessary to shut down the LeBrons or Kevin Durants of the world, but then again who really does? So much of defense really comes down to positioning and rotations that a player of Marble’s basketball intelligence and work ethic can become a solid team defender.
It’s not as though all of the sudden Marble’s body type became long and lean. He has played his entire life against opponents more physically imposing than him, but like all good players he has learned to adapt and adjust his game accordingly.
I’m certainly not predicting that Devyn Marble will turn out to be an all-star, but I think that there is a place for him in the NBA if he continues to work on his game and finds a team that he fits with.
For comparison’s sake, I would liken Marble to the Portland Trailblazers’ Wesley Matthews. A player who came into the league as a relatively low percentage shooter, but worked diligently at his craft and now shoots around 40% from 3 on a consistent basis. These two players lack any type of ego that could hurt team chemistry while also possessing the urge to make an impact in any way that they can out on the basketball court.
In the end whether Devyn Marble ultimately gets drafted or not, his contribution to the present and future state of the Iowa program should not be overlooked.