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2021-22 Pelicans Season in Review: Naji Marshall

Age: 24

NBA experience: Two seasons (two with Pelicans)

Games played/games started: 55/4

Key stats: 5.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 79.6 FT percentage

Naji Marshall 2021-22 Pelicans Season Overview

The 60th pick marks the official end of the NBA draft each summer. Over the past two years, however, the draft’s completion has been when the New Orleans Pelicans have accomplished some of their best work.

During the 2022 playoffs, the Western Conference’s eighth seed relied on a pair of reserves who’d gone undrafted, players who “settled” for two-way G League contracts, but made the absolute most of their initial opportunities. Forward Naji Marshall (not picked in 2020) and guard Jose Alvarado (unselected in 2021) combined to log 173 minutes in a hard-fought first-round series vs. Phoenix, helping New Orleans extend the top-seeded Suns to six games.

It was the second straight season in which Marshall has gone from a minimal first-half role for New Orleans to a key piece during the spring. This time the Xavier (Ohio) product provided the Pelicans with a needed defensive presence off the bench, moving into Willie Green’s rotation Feb. 25 at Phoenix and remaining there the rest of the campaign. Marshall’s insertion made a quick impact, with the Pelicans posting four straight wins coming out of the All-Star break, by a combined margin of 107 points.

Marshall went from appearing in 32 of the team’s first 59 games to playing each of the final 31, including eight postseason contests.

“Just special,” Marshall said April 29 of the season. “To where we started at, to be here is unbelievable. Dream come true, and motivation to build and be better next season.”

The East Coast native joined forces with Alvarado in helping to make the Pelicans a much stingier and more disruptive defense over the final 2.5 months of the season. New Orleans ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency prior to the All-Star break, but was ninth after it, posting a 13-10 record.

“We have key pieces at both ends (of the floor),” Marshall said of the Pelicans’ improved team balance. “This summer is going to be a good one and a motivating one, to just be better.”

Like his rookie season, Marshall focused on maintaining the right approach and spending extra time in the practice gym, even when it may not result in game action. In November and December, he experienced two separate stretches of six-plus consecutive DNPs. After Marshall, Alvarado and rookie Trey Murphy III helped lead the Pelicans to an unbeaten 2021 summer league run, each player needed to remain patient in terms of playing time during the regular season. All three ended up being vital in New Orleans turning a 1-12 start into a playoff berth.

“I think they set a standard,” Marshall said of the Pelicans’ summer squad. “Summer league we were undefeated. We harped on the defensive end, ran a beautiful offense, worked hard when we weren’t playing. When the real team came in (for preseason and training camp), they saw that, picked up on that, and took it a new level.”

Highlights: Naji Marshall 2021-22 Pelicans Season Recap

Naji Marshall By the Numbers

1,435: Total career minutes for Marshall over his two seasons in the NBA. Just 27 players from the 2020 NBA Draft have logged more playing time than that, via Basketball Reference.

34: Rank among all second-year NBA players for Marshall in total minutes (736) this season.

7: Marshall games this season featuring multiple steals, including four times during double-digit New Orleans victories.

Naji Marshall’s Three Most Notable Games

No. 1: March 13, New Orleans 130, Houston 105

Pressed into starting duty due to the absence of CJ McCollum (health and safety protocols), Marshall delivered his lone double-double of the season, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He added a pair of steals.

No. 2: March 18, New Orleans 124, San Antonio 91

His second-highest scoring game of the season consisted of 18 points on 8/16 shooting, as the Pelicans ran roughshod over the Spurs in AT&T Center. Marshall also grabbed seven rebounds and posted a pair of steals in 25 minutes.

No. 3: Feb. 25, New Orleans 117, Phoenix 102

Marshall helped the Pelicans set a defensive tone for the second half of the season, as New Orleans badgered Phoenix on its home floor by coming up with 10 steals. Four of those thefts were by Marshall in only 16 minutes of playing time.

From the 12

Each player review features a poll or question directed to the New Orleans fan base. For Marshall, the poll question was: What did you like most about what he and the Pelicans’ bench did during the second half of the regular season through the playoffs? The overwhelming poll winner was hustle/intensity (84 percent), followed by swag (8 percent) and defense (7 percent).

@ValanciunasBros: I love Naji’s strength. He really plays with force. His decision-making is still improving.