Thanks to everyone who participated in our Banners on the Parkway postseason player report cards. We’ll be breaking down each player’s grades for the rest of this week and on into next week and maybe the following, just depending on how time allows. We’ll also be assigning and explaining our own grades of each player. We’ll start with the player who got the lowest community ranking and work our way up to the MVP.
|Naji Marshall||Votes||% of votes|
|Community GPA: 3.50|
This is rarefied air for a freshman. According to Xavier fans, only Trevon Bluiett, Kerem Kanter, and JP Macura had better seasons than Naji Marshall did. What’s perhaps more startling is that this isn’t evidence of being a fan favorite (though he is), or of some subjective attachment to the player, there’s a very good argument that Naji arrived on the team, got his feet wet, and then took over. Against Wisconsin, Naji went for 1/0/0 and barely dodged the dreaded trillion. Not until the season ender against Florida State, and then only because of injury, would he so completely disappear from a game. In between, he put together a monster season.
Only a relatively grim 22% turnover rate keeps this from being an easy A for Marshall. Naji shot .530/.349/.753 and averaged 7.4/4.4/1.6 on the year. If that makes it sound like he did a bit of everything offensively, that’s because he did. Beside the three 6-10 guys in the middle, Naji had the highest offensive rebounding rate on the team. Other than the three guys who spent time at point guard, Marshall had the highest assist rate on the team. What this added up to was a 110.7 efficiency rate in 21.8 minutes per game. You probably heard just a little bit of ESPN slobbering over Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox. Naji was better than him in every meaningful tempo adjusted stat.
Xavier wasn’t great on defense, but that wasn’t Naji’s fault. With the possible exception of Kaiser Gates, Marshall was Xavier’s best on ball defender all year long. As a freshman, defense will get you playing time even when your offense isn’t clicking. On the rare occasions that Naji couldn’t impact the game offensively, his ability to stay with all but the very quickest guards and bang with all but the real post monsters kept him in games. Coach Steele has said that next year Xavier’s defense will be more aggressive and greatly improved. Naji Marshall is going to be his main building block for that.
Naji Marshall scored over 20 twice, started 18 of Xavier’s 35 games (and was one of only five players to appear in all of them), and brought some desperately needed intensity to the defensive end of the floor. What Marshall also did was inherit some of the JP Macura role, hitting the floor for every loose ball, being the first to pick up any teammate also on the deck, and, of course, endearing himself to opponents and their fanbases alike. When Xaiver takes the floor next year, it will be with Naji Marshall as one of their unquestioned leaders.