Recapping New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall's 2020-21 NBA Season.
- Age 23
- Experience One season (one with Pelicans)
- Games Played/Games Started 32/10
Every season there are inspiring stories of NBA rookies who prove the doubters wrong by outperforming their draft status. Undrafted out of Xavier (Ohio) last November, Marshall not only showed that he should’ve been one of the 60 players selected during the 2020 event, the guard/forward also surprised himself during his professional debut.
“I was just talking about this, (that) I exceeded my expectations,” Marshall said during his May 17 exit interview. “I didn’t even expect to play coming in this year. I just expected to learn as much as I can, and hopefully prove myself in (2021) summer league and do what I had to do next year.
“Just to get an opportunity and really take advantage of that ‘next man up’ (mentality), it really worked for me. I’m really thankful to everyone on the Pelicans’ staff who gave me an opportunity, and I look forward to getting better.”
For much of the campaign, Marshall’s minimal preseason expectations appeared to be justified, with him appearing in only seven of the Pelicans’ first 47 games. However, injuries to teammates helped vault him into a major role over the final 25 games, including starting the last six. Along the way, he demonstrated a valuable all-around skill set, including averaging 11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists in May.
- PTS Per Game 7.7
- REB Per Game 4.6
- AST Per Game 2.8
Naji Marshall Key Stats from 2020-21 NBA Season
“I think I surprised myself a little bit, just being able to play my whole game and really get to show all of what I have,” Marshall said of adapting quickly to the NBA. “It definitely came a little bit easier than I thought it would. (Now) I’m just trying to get better as much as I can.”
Part of Marshall’s in-season improvement could be attributed to his successful stint in the G League bubble, where he helped lead Erie to an 11-5 record. Not long after the two-way player returned to New Orleans to rejoin the big-league club, he began making a major impact for the Pelicans. That resulted in him signing a multi-year contract May 7.
“I exceeded all of my expectations,” Marshall said. “I’m thankful I could prove myself and work my way up to a deal. Looking into the future, it’s all about getting better and better.”
“He’s another great example of a player our scouting department did a remarkable job of (identifying),” Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “They locked in on him on draft night from the beginning. He was a player they were very, very high on.
“He has an elite gift defensively, and he’s also a very good playmaker and capable shooter at this point. He’s a player we have a great deal of hope for in the future, and we’re very excited we have him under contract long-term moving forward.”
Naji Marshall | By The Numbers
Minutes for Marshall prior to the All-Star break. His ability to show what he could do was hampered greatly when COVID-19 sidelined him, preventing him from getting critical court time during training camp. He logged 691 minutes in the second half.
Games of four-plus assists for Marshall, who built immediate late-season chemistry dishing to Pelicans bigs Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez. Marshall had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.32, an excellent combination of playmaking and minimal mistakes.
Rank among all NBA rookies in defensive rebounding average for Marshall (4.2). The only first-year pros who produced more in that category were all first-round draft picks, including LaMelo Ball (4.7), Deni Avdija, James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart.
Photos: Naji Marshall Season in Review | 2020-2021 Pelicans
Naji Marshall | Most Notable Games from 2020-21 NBA Season
#1, April 11, New Orleans 116, Cleveland 109
Marshall’s “breakthrough” performance in Ohio – the state where he played college basketball – featured him notching 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He shot 6/9 from the field, helping New Orleans overcome a second-half deficit.
#2, May 4, New Orleans 108, Golden State 103
The Pelicans delivered in a virtual must-win situation, after losing to the Warriors the previous night. Marshall notched 10 points and seven rebounds in his 23 minutes of action, leading the reserves to a 24-20 edge in bench scoring over Golden State subs.
#3, April 4, New Orleans 122, Houston 115
Coming off the bench in the Toyota Center, Marshall’s all-around outing included 12 points, four rebounds and five assists. It was just his second game as a member of Stan Van Gundy’s rotation. The Pelicans won their third straight road game.