Pelicans 2024 playoff profile: Naji Marshall

When national TV audiences tune in to watch eighth-seeded New Orleans in the 2024 NBA playoffs, several Pelicans players will be more familiar to viewers than backup forward Naji Marshall. Many of Marshall’s teammates entered the NBA with greater hype and higher expectations — including the club’s seven lottery picks — while the Xavier (Ohio) product went undrafted in 2020.

But when the fourth-year pro gets into the action, he has a knack for being someone everyone notices, whether it’s fans, media or opponents. The 26-year-old is determined to make his mark in every match, both on and off the floor. While New Orleans posted the NBA’s best road record (28-14) and highest overall mark (49-33) in 15 years this season, Marshall never hesitated to impress and provide the Pelicans with sloppiness, hustle and tough defense . , three-point shooting in the corner and toughness. Marshall, the son of a former professional boxer, is the first to defend a teammate (see: Miami Heat game on Feb. 23), ignite the Smoothie King Center crowd or engage in a friendly discussion with fans in road arenas .

“I just like to have fun,” Marshall said. “Deal with people. It’s not always bad (conversation with opponents). Sometimes it’s showing love. Even though they’re talking nonsense, it’s still showing love in one way. It gets me going and keeps me locked into the game. Especially when I involve the fans, I have to be at my best, otherwise they will win that battle. It’s fun. It makes me feel like I’m not working. I know that as soon as my teammates see me doing that, they will show up too, so it has multiple benefits.”

Marshall is one of many Pelicans reserves who regularly provide these intangibles, but his play also allows him to deliver in big situations. The New Jersey native was one of the heroes of Friday’s play-in tournament victory (105-98) over Sacramento that sent the Pelicans into the playoffs. Marshall helped swing the game in New Orleans’ favor during a second-quarter flurry, playing tenacious defense (two steals, one block) against the likes of Kings forward Keegan Murray, pushing the second-year forward past the took halfcourt and didn’t give an inch. . Marshall, also known as “The Knife,” recorded 11 points and six rebounds, throwing down two dunks.

“He was a guy who immediately stepped up and you could feel his presence in the game,” head coach Willie Green said of Marshall’s impact.

“He defended the basketball and (created) pressure,” forward Brandon Ingram said of Marshall’s valuable boost against the Kings. “Making people uncomfortable. Whoever was guarding Naji today made them feel uncomfortable.”

Marshall describes his aggressive approach as a reflection of his personality. He regularly reiterates how grateful he is that the NBA is his profession, something he tries to show every time he is between the lines.

“I think that’s just who I am as a person,” he said. “I am a passionate person. I love basketball, probably more than many things in this world. To be there and get the opportunity to play in the NBA, I think it’s incredible. I don’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that.’ It’s kind of a ‘leave it all out there’ moment.”