Naji Marshall shoots over Jaden Ivey of the Detroit Pistons during the second quarter of of a preseason game.

Pelicans 2022 preseason profile: Naji Marshall

It’s been less than two years since Naji Marshall became an NBA player, but that timeframe often feels like much, much longer. In some ways, the vast distance Marshall has traveled as a player mirrors that of his team during the same span. Undrafted out of Xavier (Ohio), the hard-nosed, defensive-minded forward debuted on a two-way contract in 2020-21, perhaps the strangest season in league history – his first official appearance occurred in Los Angeles, in front of zero fans. Roughly 15 months later, Marshall looked around the Smoothie King Center before Game 3 of the Pelicans’ April playoff series vs. Phoenix and relished what he saw: A crowd of nearly 19,000 fans in red T-shirts, creating a raucous atmosphere. Marshall remembered back to his arrival in New Orleans, when he realized that his new team had the potential to accomplish something significant.

“It’s crazy because since I’ve been here, (Brandon Ingram) and I have talked about how this was going to happen,” Marshall said of New Orleans embracing an on-the-rise Pelicans squad. “For it to happen like that, it’s crazy, but I knew it was going to happen. I manifested it. To come in here and see B.I., Zion (Williamson on the roster), I was like, ‘There is no way there is not greatness right here. The time will come.’ I knew it since I got here.”

Naji Marshall | New Orleans Pelicans Media Day 2022

Marshall filled a vital reserve role for New Orleans down the stretch of last season, totaling the seventh-most minutes (430) on the club after the All-Star break, as the Pelicans went 13-10 to secure a play-in spot. Known more for his aggressive defense, in preseason, the 24-year-old showed signs of an improved offensive game, averaging 12.4 points and shooting 52 percent from the field.

“That’s my dawg,” Pelicans point guard and close friend Jose Alvarado said of Marshall. “He’s working his tail off defensively. Offensively he put in a lot of work this offseason. I’m happy for him. He deserves it and I hope everything keeps going his way.”

“It’s a testimony to the work,” Marshall said of his preseason. “I’m letting my work show for itself. I worked really hard on my game all-around. Just trying to add more and more to my game.”

Entering his third NBA season, the Atlantic City native is among a large group of young Pelicans trying to take another step in 2022-23, benefiting from the invaluable pro experience they’ve gained. Marshall has logged 1,435 career minutes, not counting the 56 he played during his first taste of the playoffs.

“I think all of us are starting to feel more comfortable and letting our true games come out,” Marshall said of acclimating to the NBA. “We’re trying to build on last season and we want more. We’re truly stepping into ourselves as players.”

Naji Marshall (15 points) Highlights vs. Miami Heat | Pelicans Preseason 10/12/22