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2017-18 Detroit Pistons preview: Can Boban Marjanovic last with extended minutes?

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The Pistons will lean on Boban to be part of their regular rotation; can he be counted on?

Christopher Daniels

Boban Marjanovic’s time has arrived. The seven-foot-three high-rise human will no longer be buried on the depth chart, rather, he’s the official backup to Andre Drummond. A handful of variables (notably, matchups) will determine just how much we see the 29-year-old center but it’s almost a certainty he will participate more than the 293 minutes he did last year.

Marjanovic is a highly skilled true post player and has been a per-36 minute, per-100 possession, per-garbage time and per-DBB comment section G-O-D but now it’s time to see how he handles himself as —possibly—an every game, meaningful minutes type of player.

Should be fun.

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Year in Review

Boban laid pretty low for much of November and December in 2016, his first two months in a Pistons’ uniform after inking a three-year deal during the summer. Then in early January, the Pistons hosted the Charlotte Hornets for a seemingly routine battle of mediocrity but Andre Drummond foul trouble combined with Aron Baynes on the shelf via an ankle sprain, left Stan Van Gundy little choice other than to release The Boban.

Marjanovic responded scoring 15 points on three-of-four shooting and an impressive nine-of-eleven from the line while collecting a career high 19 rebounds. He instantly became a Detroit Mount Rushmore athlete along the lines of Steve Yzerman, Barry Sanders and Al Kaline. The red carpets and late night parties didn’t last long, though, as he was subjected to the depths of the bench yielding no consequential playing time in any game that mattered for the remainder of the season.

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One Big Question

How will Marjanovic hold up on the defensive end?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

Going from 293 minutes to the possibility of 900 or so is a sizable leap and for someone of Boban’s lengthy frame, the wear and tear could add up quickly. On defense, he’s going to be asked to close out on shooters, deter guard penetration, challenge shots, rebound and everything in-between. Doing so will require relentless repetitive movement of the stop-and-go variety.

Is it in him? It’s one thing to know what to do but to be physically able to follow through on that know-how in a split second moment of time is completely different.

One of the biggest holes in Marjanovic’s defense is firmly committing to an action. He tends to get stuck in no-man’s land a bit too much:

Fence riding doesn’t work on any level of successful NBA defense. Upon recognition of the offensive play, he must do a better job of fully executing his defensive assignment.

If you’re going to contest a shot, then contest the shot.

If you’re going to help on penetration, then help on penetration.

If you’re going to screw up, screw up doing something instead of doing nothing.

Constant hesitation is a worrisome trait and it’s tough to fix. Boban can only control the actions of Boban, he must learn to consistently lean on and trust his teammates are on the same strategic page. If the Pistons give up a bucket but Boban did his part then Stan’s gotta figure out who is running extra laps in practice:

That ain’t on Boban.

Marjanovic’s heavy feet directly spawns two types of half court headaches.

First, he’s got to be able to closeout:

Above, Spencer Hawes blew past Marjanovic. Spoiler alert - there are a lot more mobile bigs than Hawes and most of them can’t wait to put Boban to the test.

Second, knowing he lacks foot speed, he’ll sag off, like, a lot:

Applying zero on-ball pressure gives the offense precious extra time to develop. With hands off time to screen, rescreen, tighten up shoelaces, screen, check Twitter, rescreen, eventually, they’re going to get open.

There is no shortage of talented and diverse bigs in the NBA; will Boban be up to the task?

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Projected Role

Let the DBB Book of Records forever show: I’m all in for Boban Marjanovic as a legit, every night backup.

Why?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

Boban is instant offense from the paint area and free throw line. By the time he’s taken off his warmups and officially checked in, he’s already scored four points and grabbed two offensive rebounds. Check the film, it’s not an exaggeration. He could—by himself—be the identity of the second unit in which opponents must design a set of special rules (The Boban Rules, if you will) to implement when playing Detroit, he’s that unique.

Typically, teams’ bench bucket getter is a two guard or wing along the likes of Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams or Manu Ginobili. In fact, the last true center to earn 6th Man of the Year was back during the 1985-86 season when everyone’s favorite hippie, Bill Walton, took home the award. How many teams—- on their bench— have a defender that can bother anything Boban does on the court offensively? I’m not crowing Marjanovic 6th Man of the Year (he won’t play enough) but in a league full of unapologetic copy cats, being different can be beneficial.

Boban doesn’t solely rely on being tall to put the ball through the basket, although it certainly helps. Instead, from block to block, he runs the floor well and his positioning is second to none:

He makes for an easy target.

His strengths mesh well with his fellow second teamers, most notably Ish Smith. How many times did we see Smith effortlessly penetrate into the lane only to miss the (relatively) easy layup?

The easiest bucket in the world is following Smith on his way to the basket as Drummond kindly examples above. Take a guess at who compiles offensive rebounds without breaking a sweat?

Just by owning a functional pulse, Marjanovic puts himself in a position to rebound. His 16.8 offensive rebounding percentage would’ve led the league had he played enough minutes to qualify.

For Boban to fully capitalize on this opportunity, he must do a better job of passing the ball out of the post. Maybe it’s because he’s been seemingly held down for so long and wants to prove his worth but Boban was a black hole after a perimeter entry pass. Forcing shots isn’t necessary when there is an option to kick it back out and reestablish position.

One of the reasons Aron Baynes was so useful as a Drummond backup was because he’s a capable free throw maker. Van Gundy could throw Baynes in to quickly end any intentional Drummond fouling. As a career 78 percent FT shooter, he can do the same with Boban.

However.

Knock on wood, Andre Drummond has been injury-free throughout his career but if anything should happen to promote Boban to full time starter for any extended time, that’s a jump I’m not sure he’s ready for. It would be too many minutes on too big of a body and I can’t see him holding up.

However, part two.

As-is, he can certainly flourish in the twelve to fourteen minutes per game role with the occasional 20+ minute game. Due to matchups, there is a possibility he might not even see the floor on a given night.

The Toothpaste has been set free!