In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this installment, we examine Xavier’s Naji Marshall.
Xavier basketball has a rich history of sending players to the next level, despite their status as a mid-major program in Division I athletics (at least until a move to the Big East in 2013). Noted alumni include David West, James Posey, Semaj Christon and Trevon Bluiett, as well as renowned LeBron James posterizer, Jordan Crawford, who started his career with the Atlanta Hawks after a draft day trade in 2010.
Naji Marshall hopes to be the next in line to secure a roster spot in the NBA. A three-year starter, Marshall was a second-team All-Big East performer in 2018-19, and a first-team All-Big East performer in a pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.
Marshall shot 50.7% from two-point range over his sophomore and junior campaign, to go along with 15.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists and over a steal to boot per 36 minutes. Despite his strong mark from inside the arc, Marshall tossed up an ugly 28.1% mark from three-point distance on more than five attempts per game, which ultimately evened out to just a 51.2 TS% over that span. And despite his passing prowess, Marshall’s roughly 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio demonstrates some carelessness with the ball.
He may have some upside on midrange jumpers and fade shots, as a 72.5% career shooter from the free throw line, but consistency from an NBA three point distance will have to come in time.
Per KenPom, Xavier played with the 191st fastest adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes adjusted for opponent pace) in 2019-20, and logged a creepingly slow 302nd mark in the same metric in 2018-19 out of 353 Division I teams. This means Marshall’s per 36 stats probably understate his true production, at least by a bit.
Marshall has an NBA-ready frame and NBA-ready athleticism at 6’7”, 220 lbs with a 7’0” wingspan. His slashing and finishing at the rim should translate if he learns to pick his spots well, as his explosion off the bounce is what immediately pops out of his college tape. He has impressive hang time as he glides to the rim and has the strength to finish through contact.
He handles the ball well, and although he favors driving to his stronger right hand side, his quick crossover and tight spin moves can lead him to easy left handed finishes at the rim, especially in transition.
Below is Marshall in semi-transition. He generally looks to get to his stronger right hand when possible and his crafty dribbles topped by a behind-the-back change of direction allowed him to do so to enter the paint around two defenders.
Marshall has a variety of passes at his disposal, bouncing crisp pocket passes in traffic and lobbing entry passes to the post with a feathery touch.
Marshall is active as a help defender and typically displays good awareness when to pull off his assignment to trap and double opponents. But his on-ball defense is his bread and butter. Rarely does Marshall fail to contest a player in a three-point stance. He has active feet and knows how to use his length when he switches onto a smaller guy.
In the clip below, Marshall has switched onto the point off a pick. He uses his lanky arms to bother the dribbler and keeps his body vertical to cut off the lane. Somehow he gets a ticky-tack foul call but that’s irrelevant; it’s solid defense.
Perimeter screens pose no problem for Marshall, and he typically takes good angles to sniff out down screens and back screens. If necessary, he’ll fight hard to get through them or alert his teammates verbally to a switch. He has good awareness to pick up a man in transition, and in halfcourt play, possesses good basketball IQ of players’ tendencies and sets out to to counter them with his defensive positioning.
Durability wasn’t a concern, as the Musketeer started and played in 64 out of a possible 67 games his last two seasons in college. He took on a heavy leadership role on the court in stride, leading for me to believe there are no concerns about work ethic or the like.
A big reason for Marshall’s poor jump shooting marks is him settling for long twos and threes. His shot selection leaves a lot to be desired, as his pull up shooting should not be featured as much as it did at Xavier.
Below after a scrum for the ball, the possession below ends in an unnecessarily long three with 13 seconds on the shot clock from Marshall. Steph Curry, Dame Lillard or Trae Young would have that green light from that distance, but that’s clearly not his game.
Xavier didn’t have many capable primary or secondary playmakers, so Marshall was thrust into a lead role. Despite being the featured guy on a bubble NCAA tournament team, a continuation of his 26.7 USG% the past two seasons would not be a recipe for success at the next level.
His jumper form is a stiff, set shot with a short follow-through, and he has a variety of lazy step backs and fadeaways early in the shot clock that clank iron. His spot-up shooting is no better than his off-the-dribble shooting either, displaying slightly differing shot mechanics and slightly different footwork every shot.
Per Synergy, he rated just .824 PPP (points per possession) on catch and shoot attempts, placing him in the 28th percentile. In addition, a low .33 FT/FGA rate during his sophomore and junior seasons is further evidence of not committing to slashing to the basket as much as his skill set would warrant.
Marshall simply doesn’t have a full arsenal of shots. His post game and floaters in traffic were mostly a non-factor. The below clip is evidence of that.
He was erratic with the ball at times, whipping cross court passes into defenders hands and driving into traffic too many times. Most disappointingly, Marshall simply doesn’t look comfortable enough without the ball, displaying a poor feel for spacing and setting lazy screens. These are the selfless skills a deep bench player much have to survive at the NBA level.
Bigger wings and forwards can body him up at times: a worrying trait for a rugged, upper body defender like Marshall. Similarly, quicker guards have blown by him after just one move. I don’t see any possibility of him sliding down and guarding bigs or sliding up and guarding point guards regularly, leaving him just a plus defender against shorter wings or tweener forwards.
Naji Marshall will turn 23 in January of 2021 due a postgraduate stint at Hargrave Military Academy before a three-year college career, so his advanced age is a minus in terms of draft evaluation. He will have less time to find his true fit on the court in order to carve out a role in the NBA.
Possible fit with the Atlanta Hawks
Marshall ultimately profiles as a mid to late second round talent or priority undrafted free agent. With Atlanta currently owning the No. 52 pick (via Houston), Marshall could be a possible target at the spot, ignoring any possible trades into or out of the second round. Perhaps more likely, however, is that Marshall goes undrafted and tries to showcase his skills in a Summer League (if those exist this season), or in some team’s preseason training camp (if those exist this season).
Marshall’s game is somewhat reminiscent of Hawks 2016 first-round pick (and pending free agent) DeAndre’ Bembry, albeit with less refinement and offensive facilitation ability than Bembry had coming out of St. Joe’s. Marshall won’t be a point forward at the next level, but is still a fluid ball handler and above average passing and vision for his position with a lot of defensive upside.
Marshall’s offensive game has some intrigue in isolation, pick-n-roll and hand off sets, as he’s shown he can navigate ball screens and explode to the basket. He is a gifted finisher at the rim with either hand, but despite all this, limitations as an off ball wing and screener as well poor outside shooting necessitate a high level of play as a weapon on defense.
With the possibility, or even probability, that Bembry leaves in the offseason, Marshall may offer a chance at a direct replacement. He has the skill set to be a playmaking wing on a bench unit, but most likely will require some seasoning in the G League or elsewhere to reach that potential upon entering the league.