Naji Marshall #8 of the New Orleans Pelicans steals the ball from Sacramento's Keegan Murray.

Pelicans 2024 playoff profile: Naji Marshall

Fourth-year reserve forward has knack for being in the middle of the action when he checks into games

When national TV audiences tune in to watch eighth-seeded New Orleans during the 2024 NBA playoffs, several Pelicans players will be more familiar to viewers than reserve 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.

Yet whenever the fourth-year pro checks into the action, he has a knack for being someone everyone notices, whether it’s fans, media or opposing players. The 26-year-old is determined to leave his mark on every game, both on and off the floor. As New Orleans registered the NBA’s best road record this season (28-14) and its top overall mark (49-33) in 15 years, Marshall never hesitated to make an impression, providing the Pelicans with scrappiness, hustle, hard-nosed defense, corner three-point shooting and toughness. The son of a former professional boxer, Marshall is the first to defend a teammate (see: Miami Heat game on Feb. 23), fire up the Smoothie King Center crowd, or participate in friendly discussion with fans in road arenas.

Naji Marshall steals, takes it the distance for dunk | Pelicans-Kings Play-In Highlights 4/19/24

“I just like having fun,” Marshall said. “Interacting with people. It’s not always bad (conversation with opposing fans). Sometimes it’s showing love. Even though they’re talking trash, it’s still showing love in a way. It gets me going, keeps me locked into the game. Especially when I’m engaging (with) the fans, I’ve got to be on my best (game), otherwise they win that battle. It’s fun. Makes me feel like I’m not at work doing a job. I know once my teammates see me doing that, they turn up too, so it’s multiple (benefits).”

Marshall is one of several Pelicans reserves who regularly provide those intangibles, but he also can deliver in big situations through his play. The New Jersey native was one of the heroes of Friday’s 105-98 play-in tournament victory over Sacramento, which pushed the Pelicans into the playoffs. Marshall helped swing the game in New Orleans’ favor during a second-quarter surge, playing obstinate defense (two steals, one block) against the likes of Kings forward Keegan Murray, picking up the second-year forward past halfcourt and not giving an inch. Marshall, also known as “The Knife,” notched 11 points and six rebounds, throwing down two dunks.

Naji Marshall headshot
Pelicans logo

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

“Him defending the basketball and (creating) pressure,” forward Brandon Ingram said of Marshall’s valuable boost vs. the Kings. “Making people uncomfortable. Whoever Naji was guarding today, he made them uncomfortable.”

Marshall describes his aggressive approach as being somewhat reflective of his personality. He frequently reiterates how appreciative he is to have the NBA as his profession, something he tries to show each time he’s between the lines.

“I think that’s just who I am as a person,” he said. “I’m a passionate person. I love basketball, probably more than a lot of things in this world. When I’m out there, just to get the opportunity to play in the NBA, it’s unbelievable to me. I don’t want to look back on it 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.”

Pelicans Locker Room after Clinching NBA Playoffs Spot | Pelicans vs. Kings NBA Play-In 4/19/24