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Boban Marjanovic is the Real Deal

Boban Marjanovic sounded like some folklore legend when his name popped up last summer. The San Antonio Spurs signed the 7-foot-3, 290-pound Serbian late in the offseason after already acquiring much bigger names in LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. The timing and lack of mainstream information on Marjanovic made the signing low key. Six months later, and you’d have a hard time finding any NBA fan who doesn’t know exactly who Boban Marjanovic is. InBobanity is upon us.

Marjanovic is currently second in the NBA (if he qualified) with a PER of 32.16 thanks to crazy per 40 minute averages of 28.1 points and 16.9 rebounds while shooting 60.7 percent from the floor. That sky-high PER is the second-best EVER among players who’ve played at least 200 minutes in a season, per Basketball-Reference. Of course that number will regress closer to the mean as his sample size expands and he plays less garbage minutes, but nonetheless he’s been impressive for a 27-year old rookie who went undrafted in 2010.

Marjanovic isn’t just dominating in limited minutes. He put up 17 points and 13 rebounds in 22 minutes against the Suns on Thursday. Marjanovic’s sensational start to his NBA career isn’t a huge surprise to those who knew of his exploits before he donned an NBA jersey.

I wrote about Boban back in July when his signing with the Spurs gained about as much fanfare as the Bulls signing Cristiano Felicio. Marjanovic’s Euroleague dominance was unprecedented:

The 7-foot-3, 293-pound mammoth of a human being was sensational for Crvena Zvezda Belgrade this past season. Marjanovic averaged 16.6 points (ranked third in the Euroleague) and 10.7 rebounds (far and away first in the Euroleague), while shooting 62.3 percent from the floor (sixth in the Euroleague, minimum of 20 GP) and a terrific (for his size) 78.1 percent from the line. Pace-adjusted per 40 minutes those numbers ballon to 23.4 points and 15.0 rebounds per game (4.9 offensive RPG). That all adds up to a, wait for it, 29.7 PER, which, to no one’s surprise, led the Euroleague. One other player in the DraftExpress database put up that high of a PER while playing at least 25 minutes per game (Dejan Tomasevic in 2001). Remember, the Euroleague is the best competition in the world outside the NBA. Marjanovic made it look like the D-League.

The Euroleague isn’t talked about in America too much, but the league has given a pool of young talent for the NBA to pluck from for decades. Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginobili, the Gasol Brothers, and more recently Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Mirotic have hailed from the Euroleague. Dragan Bender, who will be a top-five pick in this year’s draft, is currently playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague. Given the volume of players who have gone on from the Euroleague to succeed in the NBA, there should’ve been serious competition for Marjanovic. Instead, the Spurs got a highly skilled literal giant that is already dominating at the highest level for next to nothing. I mean just look at this dude:

Jeremy Evans, you just got introduced to the Boban. Marjanovic doesn’t move well and can barely get off the ground, but his 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-foot-7 reach make dunks like this easy for him. Marjanovic uses his size well on offense to carve out space down low for offensive boards. His offensive rebound rate of 18.5 percent leads the league among players who’ve played in at least 23 games. Yes, even over Andre Drummond.

Marjanovic is also a skilled offensive player with a nice touch for his size. His big mitts help him catch anything thrown his way and finish in the paint with ease:

Boban has also proven to have a solid back-to-the-basket game as he ranks in the 91.8th percentile from the post with 1.05 points per possession. Marjanovic’s size and unblockable, looping hook shot make him a post threat despite a less-than-advanced move-set. His high proficiency in the post is also a product of his ability to get to the line.

His 22.7 percent free-throw frequency in the post is only behind DeMarcus Cousins for the league lead (min. 23 games played and 20 percent play frequency in the post, per Synergy). Players aren’t intentionally fouling Boban to put a struggling free-throw shooter on the line. Marjanovic is excellent at the line for a big man, converting on 73.6 percent of his free-throw attempts. He shot an even better 78.1 percent from the line last season.

The rookie also adds value on the defense end. Marjanovic struggles defending on the perimeter and in pick and rolls because of his lack of mobility, but he’s an excellent rim protector and uses his frame to alter shots. His opponent’s field-goal percentage at the rim of 45.2 percent is well above average, per SportVu.

He’s also averaging 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes which is a good sign since he only averaged 1.3 blocks per 40 minutes in the Euroleague last season. However, Boban is also averaging 4.8 fouls per 36 minutes, but considering he comes off the bench that isn’t much of an issue. Marjanovic’s impact is already apparent at the team level.

The Spurs are outscoring opponents by 18.2 points per 100 possessions with Marjanovic on the floor this season, ranking fourth on the team. San Antonio is scoring 5.1 points per 100 possessions more with him on the floor. His offensive RPM of 1.35 also ranks third among centers. Tim Duncan, Aldridge, and West will play over Marjanovic barring injuries, but the Serbian is an awfully good insurance policy if anything goes wrong down the stretch this season. And considering he’s only a rookie, though an old one, there’s potentially room for him to get even better over time.

Back in July, I said of Boban, “this signing likely won’t pay off right away, but with the Spurs’ past success with international players, I’m guessing it will one day”. That day has come even sooner than expected.

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