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2016-17 Pistons review: Boban Marjanovic, the small sample size beast

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The Pistons found themselves a dominant offensive force. Now they just need to use him.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pistons signed Boban Marjanovic to a three year $21 million offer sheet, the Pistons’ intentions with the move were made very clear. He would ride the bench this season as the number three center behind Andre Drummond and Aron Baynes. Stan Van Gundy stuck exactly to that plan other than a brief period in January when Aron Baynes was hurt.

During that brief two game stretch we saw exactly what Marjanovic was capable of and what was to come during the last four games of the season when the Pistons were eliminated from the playoffs. On January 5 against the Charlotte Hornets, Marjanovic put up 15 points and 19 rebounds on only four(!) field goal attempts. I was at the game and it looked like me trying to defend my dad when I was about five years old by just grabbing his arms and going for a ride.

However, that was not the peak of Boban’s small sample size dominance for this season. On Apr. 7 against the Houston Rockets, Boban scored a career high 27 points and grabbed 12 boards on 12 for 18 shooting.

Boban Marjanovic’s dominance when he finally got some playing time was not a surprise at all. He had a reputation as a per 36 stat monster in his one season in San Antonio. He would not have gotten the contract he got from the Pistons if those stats were a fluke.

Let’s just take a look at his per 36 number courtesy of Basketball Reference.

Boban Marjanovic Per 36 Minutes Stats

Season Age Tm Lg Pos G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Season Age Tm Lg Pos G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% 2P 2PA 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2015-16 27 SAS NBA C 54 4 508 7.4 12.3 0.603 0 0 7.4 12.3 0.603 6.2 8.1 0.763 5.2 8.6 13.7 1.5 0.9 1.6 2.1 3.8 21
2016-17 28 DET NBA C 35 0 293 8.8 16.2 0.545 0 0 8.8 16.2 0.545 5.8 7.1 0.81 5.7 10.3 16 1.1 0.7 1.5 1.2 3.1 23.5
Career NBA 89 4 801 8 13.8 0.578 0 0 8 13.8 0.578 6 7.7 0.779 5.3 9.2 14.6 1.3 0.8 1.6 1.8 3.6 21.9
1 season SAS NBA 54 4 508 7.4 12.3 0.603 0 0 7.4 12.3 0.603 6.2 8.1 0.763 5.2 8.6 13.7 1.5 0.9 1.6 2.1 3.8 21
1 season DET NBA 35 0 293 8.8 16.2 0.545 0 0 8.8 16.2 0.545 5.8 7.1 0.81 5.7 10.3 16 1.1 0.7 1.5 1.2 3.1 23.5

Those stats are crazy, and they make you wonder why he was not given much playing time at all during the season. Sure, most of his stats came against opposing teams’ backup centers. That still does not discredit what he has done too much in my eyes. You still have to have a great amount of skill to put up the numbers that he did when given the chance.

I know what you are screaming, SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!! Obviously scaling up his minutes will likely drop down his production, but if you watched the guy play you could see that his numbers are not that much of a fluke. He is 7’3 with great touch around the rim. There are not many teams that have anybody who can stop that.

In many of the games, there would be guys climbing on his back to try and stop him from going up with a shot or grabbing an offensive rebound. That is why he shoots seven free throw attempts per 36 minutes. He could even shoot more if refs did not let some stuff go due to his size.

His deficiencies on defense are well-documented. Due to a lack of lateral mobility, he struggles defending the pick and roll. He also struggles on defense when a team plays a more mobile center due to not being the most fleet of foot.

However, when a guy has the potential to dominate on offense and get to the free throw line at a solid rate, you find minutes for him and deal with the defensive issues. Especially on an offensively challenged team like the Pistons. Plus, he was not a terrible defender from what I could see is the few games he actually got meaningful minutes. He defends his position pretty well and protects the rim as long as he does not have to move around much.

It would be one thing to not find minutes for him due to the team being successful and not wanting to make a change and throw things off. That was not the case for this season, however.

Stan Van Gundy gave a reason for why he did not play Boban much during the season, courtesy of Vince Ellis of the Free Press:

“We really didn’t build anything around him either offensively or defensively,”

While that definitely explains why we did not see much Boban, it really isn’t a great excuse if you watched him play. He had no issues putting up numbers even without having schemes developed for him. It makes it scary to think what he could do next year with schemes actually built around him, which Van Gundy promises to do.

“We’ve got to do some defensive things to help him and we’ve got to get him the ball even more offensively. But he was our third center and so we didn’t build enough around him. But we certainly will going forward.”

Boban Marjanovic will likely be the backup center for next season as Aron Baynes is expected to opt out and earn a nice pay day. However, Marjanovic is not just being handed the job by default, he certainly earned his spot as backup center for next season. The dude is an absolute beast and was one of the few bright spots in this disappointing season.

This season will go down as just another season where the numbers Boban put up will be questioned due to a small sample size. He proved that he belongs as a rotation piece on a competitive team. Hopefully that team is the Pistons next year.