How Deep Does Naji “The Knife” Marshall Cut For the Pelicans This Season?

Written by Ben Pfiefer

The Pelicans are spoiled with wing depth, partly due to the improvements of Naji Marshall. In 2022-23, Marshall gathered his footing in his first real opportunity as a regular in New Orleans’ rotation, starting 21 games. Chief among the reasons for that is his versatility on both ends of the floor, but marred by inconsistency.

Defensive Skill Off the Bench

Marshall’s defense was, however, quite consistent as he provided positive defensive impact  (+0.7 Defensive EPM, 78th %tile) alongside Herb Jones, Dyson Daniels and New Orleans’ other rangy defenders. He’s fairly unique among the Pelicans’ defenders as a perimeter-oriented defender with impressive size and foot speed.

Trailing and chasing are critical defensive skills in a modern NBA defined by pace and space. The prevalence of space on an NBA floor necessitates fast, long rangy wing/forward sized players to defend. Marshall excels at snaking around off-ball screens, opening his hips and trailing ballhandlers around screens to contest with length. He’s an impressive off-ball playmaker, jumping passing lanes and disrupting.

Marshall loses to high-end quickness and his play-to-play consistency waxes and wanes, as he can be late to rotate, close out and get to his spots. But the defense will keep him in the rotation mix, if nothing else. His range and paint-prevention skills are a luxury on a Pelicans team lacking in primary rim protection.

Still Seeking Consistency on Offense

Offensively, Marshall is more of a mixed bag and, as it is for most bench wings, shooting is the key swing. Through his first three seasons, Marshall has remained a timid shooter, unable to crack 30% on low volume. Three-point percentage is highly variable and Marshall shot 34.9% from three his rookie season. As I’ve discussed in all of these, New Orleans fixes shooting better than many teams.

As an off-ball attacker, Marshall thrives slashing with his speed and punishing help defenders with his passing acumen. His flexibility allows Marshall to create leverage and with an improved handle, there are real flashes of pick-and-roll and second-side creation. Marshall spins out defenders and puzzles them with his length and timing on drives. 

Scoring as a whole is the other and the most pressing concern for Naji Marshall to survive on offense, as threatening a defense in some way doesn’t allow it to ignore them and play five-on-four. Marshall is a 23rd percentile percentile finisher, struggling to generate meaningful separation on his drives. Defenses fear his passing, so they often open the gates to the rim and pressure Marshall to make a play at the rim. He flashes impressive finishes using length, so this area could improve.

6’7+ wings who can act as a nominal guard while defending up are valuable in the NBA and Naji’s decisiveness as an off-ball attacker, scoring flashes and creative, connective passing are all positives. Those offensive improvements, added to the already positive defense, could make Marshall a key rotation piece for a playoff-hopeful Pelicans team.


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