Over the past few years, "positionless basketball" has become a buzzword around the NBA, with teams trying to employ a more free-flowing offensive style of play. Xavier's coaching staff has been selling that same vision to its players and future recruits, but in order to make it work, finding truly versatile players that can make plays at both ends of the court is a necessity.
On Wednesday, Xavier landed one of the most versatile two-way prospects in the entire country by reeling in four-star Naji Marshall, ranked 51st overall in the 2017 class. Marshall averaged 16.6 points per game last year as a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. He'll spend next season doing a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy. This spring and summer he posted 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 assists over the course of 17 games while playing with DC Premier on the Under Armour circuit.
Marshall has good size and a solid frame at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds. He's a good athlete with great lateral quickness and a motor that never quits. He plays a rugged, physical style that's complemented well by his skill-set on offense.
His biggest strength on the offensive end is his ballhandling ability. Because of that, he's constantly able to get into the lane where he uses his body well and draws fouls on defenders. He shot 74.2 percent from the free throw line this summer while attempting 7.3 free throws per game. He'll use his handle to run the break himself after grabbing a defensive rebound, and he makes sound decisions in transition or in the halfcourt. He has tremendous vision and feel for the game, which makes him a great creator when he has the ball in his hands. His jump shot needs improvement. He had a few big games on the Under Armour circuit where he knocked down multiple threes, but he finished just 17-of-74 (23%) overall from deep.
Defensively, he has the potential to guard at least three positions in college, if not more. His length, lateral quickness, and physicality make him a tough on the ball defender. He also shows good playmaking instincts and continues playing hard when he's off the ball, plus he finishes off stops by rebounding well. To be a truly positionless team with interchangeable pieces, it requires multiple plus defenders and length. Marshall certainly brings both qualities to the table while also giving incredible effort.
The addition of Marshall is also a huge key to piecing together the rest of the Musketeers' 2017 class. His versatility allows the coaching staff to be aggressive and confident in adding other prospects they like without the concern of how they'll fit in with their other recruits. If they want to add an extra perimeter scorer or guard, they'll have the peace of mind knowing that Marshall can play bigger and pick up the slack when it comes do doing the dirty work in the paint. If they want to add another bigger forward, they know Marshall can help with ballhandling duties and perimeter defense.
In many ways, Marshall was a lynchpin to Xavier's big recruiting class. Landing him and Elias Harden in the same week is a huge win for the staff. Adding two of their top priority recruits to the fold to go along with Jared Ridder, who committed in early June, gives them a big head start now heading into fall and leading up to the national signing period in November. Considering the No. 37 ranked player in the class, Paul Scruggs, is also reported to be a heavy Xavier lean, the 2017 class has a chance to be the Musketeers' most talented, potentially edging out the 2014 class which was ranked 14th in the country by Scout.