Somewhere between idle curiosity and dominant NBA big man – that is the unknown space Boban Marjanovic occupies. The truth? Stan Van Gundy is betting $7 million per year that he is not a mirage with a large fan base. Instead, Van Gundy believes he’s a possibly dominant center, and if true, he could be worth double his paycheck.
Not that it is much of an NBA gamble – Van Gundy used house money on Boban. He purchased his two major offseason priorities on the shopping list in backup point guard Ish Smith and versatile stretch big man Jon Leuer. When Jodie Meeks asked for a trade Van Gundy suddenly had $7 million that was going to disappear the moment Andre Drummond signed his max deal. If you’re going to gamble, you might as well gamble on one of the most fascinating oddities in the NBA.
While casual fans might look at Marjanovic and mainly see a massive 7-foot-3 frame, booming voice and heavy European accent, true NBA nerds (let’s call it a subsection of a subsection of NBA Twitter) are fascinated by him for entirely different reasons. He’s not another Human Victory Cigar - not Darko 2.0. He’s a player that put up 500 of the most effective minutes in NBA history.
2015-16 Season in Review
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Lebron James, Michael Jordan … and Boban Marjanovic. You’d be forgiven if you just did a double take. One of those is definitely not like the other.
For the curious, that is the list of the NBA’s all-time leaders in Win Shares per 48 minutes (a measure of per-minute NBA productivity) in a season playing greater than 500 minutes. Boban comes in at No. 4 just below Chamberlain (and, admittedly just above the artificial minutes limit with 504 minutes played).
Fine, point out that Marjanovic played 3,000 less minutes if you must. Tell me he attempted 2,000 less shots than Chamberlain if you need to be a jerk about it. Blah, blah, blah context. All of it is true, but this is also true -- when Marjanovic was on the court he wasn’t just good, he was absolutely dominant.
He was the only player in the NBA to shoot greater than 60 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line. He trailed only Steph Curry in True Shooting Percentage and grabbed a higher percentage of offensive rebounds than Andre Drummond. He does this not just by being a 7-foot-tall brute, but by having an incredible amount of skill and finesse (7-foot-tall Brute Division).
Boban has three modes of destroying you:
1. Dunking on fools
2. Using length and footwork to get off his post-up unimpeded
3. Unleashing an unblockable jump shot
Watch that second clip again. That is Boban going against 6-foot-11 defensive stud Nerlens Noel and making him look like Kyrie Irving getting lost on a switch. Noel might be skinny, but Boban treats him like one of those videos you see of NBA players embarrassing 8-year-olds at charity events.
The riddle is this – what is the ratio of garbage time dominance over scrubs, extremely selective match-up exploitation and honest to goodness natural talent? Van Gundy has three years to figure it out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Marjanovic forces his way into the rotation by the All-Star break.
It’s true that Marjanovic got most of his run in Spurs’ blowouts. He shot 55 percent when the margin was 16+ points last season. However, he shot 69 percent when the margin was 10 points or less and 59 percent in that 11-15 point middle ground. His free-throw shooting, rebounding and shot-blocking did not noticeably take a hit when he was in a close game compared to a blowout.
For Boban, his size will always be his biggest asset and his biggest liability. Van Gundy can’t have him on the floor chasing mobile bigs and has to make sure he’s with a unit that doesn’t leave him out to dry on screens and pick-and-rolls. But he can flourish in the right matchup and is good enough to dominate offensively and hold his own defensively against most NBA bench units.
Marjanovic will be the addiction of 2016-17. Not just because it’s so fun for fans to see the big man go to work against “tiny” mortals that measure a mere 6-foot-8. His coach will be addicted, too. Drummond will obviously get the lion’s share of the minutes at center. Aron Baynes is the incumbent backup and Jon Leuer will be the emergency perimeter big man defender. Then comes Boban to lay waste to the fleeing villagers.
Van Gundy will at first pick his spots, and then Boban will get some extended run in garbage time. Then you’ll hear Van Gundy unprompted talk about how great Marjanovic is in practice. You’ll hear him say if he cleans up some defensive flaws in his game he’ll have a chance for great success. Van Gundy will carve out just a a little bit more situational playing time. And a little more.
Suddenly, Marjanovic is going to start cutting into Baynes’ minutes at backup center. Maybe it’s because the Aussie doesn’t secure a key rebound or because he fumbles a clean pass into the post. Eventually, Marjanovic is going to take Baynes’ role as Drummond’s primary backup. If Marjanovic can up his defensive acumen and learn how to use his big body to his advantage, you will see Boban earn some crunch-time minutes and even win a game or two.
9.6 points on 57% shooting and 78% from the free throw line with 6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks in 16 minutes per game.