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New Orleans Pelicans agree verbally with Naji Marshall to two-way contract

The forward out of Xavier looks to be a smart gamble

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Xavier v St John’s Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Following the selection of Kira Lewis Jr. at the 13th pick, the New Orleans Pelicans scooped up another player immediately after the 2020 NBA Draft, verbally agreeing to sign Naji Marshall to a two-way contract.

Marshall, a junior out of Xavier University in Ohio, posted averages of 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. While he filled up box scores, these raw numbers fail to tell the whole story. He’s an interesting wing player, possessing both obvious strengths and weaknesses.

Standing 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, Marshall clearly has to build to play in The Association. Despite leading Xavier in scoring last season, he is best identified for his exploits on the other end of the floor. Per Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, Marshall is an excellent hounding defender, grading out just a tier below Devin Vassell:

Marshall is a monster on-ball defender. Great at getting through screens for a young player. Has strong quickness for his size to be able to stay in front of opposing players and enough strength now to absorb contact hold his ground. His length makes him excellent at contesting jump shots and forcing tough looks. Gets into a passing lanes and forces turnovers. Plus, has real switchability. Will do his best work on wings and forwards but can deal with switches onto guards and non-centers. He does get lost off the ball occasionally and isn’t quite the team defender that someone like Devin Vassell is right now, but he’s just the level below that tier on defense. Does use his length to dig down and cause issues in help when engaged. Plus, has ever stronger physical tools and room for improvement over the next few years. If Marshall is to stick, defense is where he’ll need to hang his hat.

So, why didn’t Marshall get drafted yesterday? Because he’s a train wreck of a shooter. He failed to approach topping 30% from the college three-point line in his last two seasons, and watching the shot form on his jumper a few times, one quickly notices the ugly push shot. With quite the shaky perimeter jumpshot and factoring he’s 22 years of age, is there room for improvement? Maybe.

Marshall did maintain a free throw percentage over 70% in each college season and he doesn’t seem to suffer from any confidence issues, but perhaps most importantly, the Pelicans have an ace in the hole: Fred Vinson.

With New Orleans long-time assistant having previously fixed the poor shooting motions of Tyreke Evans and Lonzo Ball, it’s a smart idea to see if the Pelicans resident shot doctor can make inroads. If so, the Pelicans might have a legitimate NBA rotation player on their hands.

In my limited time viewing some video highlights, I got a faint Ron Artest vibe. Watch Marshall move on the court. The length of his strides. The leg kick outs that sometimes emerge on shots and drives. Throw in the aggressiveness on that frame with an unorthodox jumper combined with some ball handling and playmaking skills, it’s kind of unmistakable, no?

Either way, handing Marshall a two-way contract looks to be the right choice. The motor is fun. He has an NBA body and some certifiable skills. If he develops a reliable jumper, we might be allowed to get our hopes up.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.