Willie Green's three years in charge of the New Orleans Pelicans have been interrupted repeatedly by injuries to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Most teams missing All-Stars as much as this team would be stuck in the NBA Draft lottery. Green's group is going to the NBA Playoffs for the second time in three seasons though. Much of that success can be credited to a supporting cast that has carried the franchise through tough times.

Jose Alvarado and Naji Marshall were both undrafted free agents signed to G-League deals to start their professional careers. Now both are household names in New Orleans thanks to their dirty work on defense. Their offensive abilities have been at league-average or better marks this season as well, boosting their value to the Pelicans.

Alvarado and Marshall's energy injections are something other teams have had problems adjusting to for three years now. The upcoming series against the Oklahoma City Thunder should be no different. The Pelicans bench unit is perhaps the biggest component of a possible upset this side of a Brandon Ingram offensive explosion.

Ingram appreciates the tenacity of two overlooked prospects who never quit on their dreams.

“It just feels like they are always in the right spots at the right time,” Ingram said. “They always bring energy. Jose brings energy and changes the game. Naji changes the game on the defensive side and pushes the pace. They have high IQs so they are finding the right pass on the floor and they know when to go score.

“Those are the type of guys I want to be around,” Ingram continued, “We feel like we are from the same place. I feel like I've known them for a while. We're similar to each other so we go out and show heart when we're on the floor.”

Willie Green's Pelicans reward defensive-first mentalities

New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) reacts to making a three point basket against the Sacramento Kings in the second half during a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Smoothie King Center
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Green took the job with the understanding that the team on the floor would prioritize team defense over individual offense. Even Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram had to buy into that approach for the Pelicans to have success. Herb Jones used the directives from Green to gain a starting spot as a second-round rookie.

Alvarado and Marshall were no different. They were judged by their work on the court and both were rewarded with NBA contract extensions.

Green had nothing but compliments for both after beating the Sacramento Kings in an NBA Play-In Tournament elimination game.

“Our bench has been really good, starting at that Phoenix game. They've taken off. They're a big part of our team, a big part of what we do. We rely on their speed, their ability to turn the game inside out. Jose (Alvarado), and Naji (Marshall) climbing the guys defensively. Playing with speed and force. And Larry (Nance Jr.). Huge effort across the board.”

Marshall was exceptionally impressive against the Kings, per Green.

“(Marshall) was another guy that stepped up right away,” Green boasted. “You can feel his presence in the game, and, honestly, all of these guys all season long. We can go down the line. They all contributed to wins. They contributed to this journey. They're all important to what we do and it's refreshing to see the results. The result is being back in the playoffs.”

Alvarado has already earned the MR. GTA nickname, even snatching a few come-from-behind steals off of Chris Paul in a series versus the Phoenix Suns two seasons ago. Anyone watching these NBA Playoffs will easily recognize Naji Marshall's name when free agency opens up this summer, especially if the Pelicans pull off the first-round upset.

Some national pundits will be shocked to see just how much of the Mid-Level Exception is dedicated by a contender to bring Marshall in for a few seasons. Don't fall for the hot takes. Just like the widely-respected Alvarado, people paying attention to the Pelicans have known Marshall's value for years now.