The past few years have opened the eyes of basketball innovators everywhere. Fast pace, quick triggers, switch everything defenses. The NBA has done a complete 180 and is quickly taking monstrous steps towards shifting modern offenses into what we see currently.
The notion that traditional big men are, in a sense, a dying breed, is changing the way the NBA evaluates talent and prioritizes its needs. The era of slow-footed, tumbling big men who patrol the paint and caboose through fastbreaks is thought to be of ancient lore by now. In the wave of three-point shooting and constant action, the idea of a traditional big man is one that damages the tempo. But there have already been a few big men who have carved out their niche in the modern NBA.
Boban Marjanovic doesn’t have an outside shot, he slugs up-and-down the court, and he’s limited almost exclusively to the paint. Yet, when teams are trying to go smaller and spread the floor, they can’t seem to do anything to stop Marjanovic when he gets his massive paws on the basketball around the rim.
Boban Marjanovic is 7-foot-3 and weighs 290 pounds. He is officially the largest man in the NBA at 30 years old. He is 0-1 from three in his entire career. His shoes are filled to the brim with cement. He’s also a PER god and has the second highest percentage (28.2) of any player this season behind only Damian Lillard (30.2). There was a point six games into this season where Marjanovic boasted the highest PER of all-time at 37.6.
But PER isn’t the end-all-be-all of statistics. And honestly, it doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of Marjanovic. But the PER stat – which judges players based on their overall efficiency by the minute – is telling for one reason. Marjanovic is one of the most efficient players in the NBA when on the court.
He doesn’t play as many minutes as say a LeBron James or a Steph Curry (Marjanovic has eclipsed 30 minutes in an NBA game only twice, both in his rookie season in 2015-16), but in the short bursts of minutes he does play, he makes a noticeable and immediate impact.
His enormous frame alone causes a mismatch every single possession. There have been a handful of NBA players who can dunk without having to jump and Marjanovic is one of them. He can palm a basketball like it’s a grapefruit and waves it around in the air like a middle-school bully taunting a child five years his junior. In one swift motion, he’ll wind up and thunder down a dunk so devastating you can only look around shrug your shoulders at the result.
Through nine games this season, Majranovic has averaged 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in only 12.7 minutes per game. His per-36 numbers are just something to admire. A tease more than anything else. Unfortunately, Marjanovic physically can’t play upwards of 25 minutes on a game-by-game basis – or at least he hasn’t proven he can in nearly three seasons. But those 5-6 minute sessions he does play two or three times a game can swing the momentum entirely.
Marjanovic replaced starting center Marcin Gortat – a 12-year veteran – only seven games into this season. He earned the starting spot after doing about as good a job defensively as you can on superstar Joel Embiid. Including the game against Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers and his two consecutive starts that followed, Marjanovic played his longest stretches of basketball this season.
Here are the stats from those three games, in order.
- 15 points, 11 rebounds (5-7 shooting), and three blocks in 22 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers
- 10 points and 11 rebounds (4-7 shooting) in 22 minutes against the Orlando Magic.
- 10 points, nine rebounds (3-8 shooting), and two blocks in 17 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Marjanovic isn’t someone the Clippers pinpoint as the focus of their offense. He’s more of an all-time distraction and often times a bailout. Against smaller lineups, the Clippers will literally drive to the rim and just toss up a pass, knowing that Marjanovic can snatch it out of the air with one hand and roll it off his fingertips in one quick motion.
If his teammates miss, he’s excellent at establishing position to pull down a rebound for an instant putback. He’s impressively quick at getting his shot off and at this size, he’s unblockable with the ball above his head.
In the second clip, Marjanovic makes Mohamad Bamba and Nikola Vucevic – both seven-footers – look like toddlers attempting to swat at a pinata dangling from the ceiling.
Majanovic isn’t just good because he’s so big. It definitely benefits him, but he has an impressive offensive skill set for someone his size.
He’s nearly impossible to move on the block and can plant himself hard in the paint, which he couples with one of the featheriest touches in the NBA. Marjanovic has made over 70 percent of his shots in the paint and he averages 6.3 post touches per game in that area. He possesses a silky hook shot with enough variance in his post moves to at least throw defenders off enough for him to get a good look.
While he’s not a threat to pop open for a shot out of the pick-and-roll, he’ll instead lurk inside and hound the offensive glass. Marjanovic ranks in the 94th percentile among big men when it comes to securing offensive rebounds, corraling 13.4 percent of his teammates misses. That’s when he’s most effective. Under the basket after a teammate’s shot goes up.
Marjanovic isn’t a perennial shot blocker. And despite his shot blocking percentage of 2.9 – which actually ranks him in the 77th percentile among bigs – he’s not a long-reaching enforcer such as Anthony Davis or Rudy Gobert. He’s similar to those two but in a different way. Marjanovic is a psychological shot deterrent. His pure presence alone changes the way an offense attacks the paint, much like Davis and Gobert do.
You can’t jump up and over or go through Marjanovic. He’s immovable in the paint and has great instincts when it comes to defending without fouling. The arms go straight up and he jumps with the defender, not into them. Once they’re both in the air, his length does enough to bother the shot for a miss. Often times players will flat out refuse to take him one-on-one, especially out of the pick-and-roll and elect for a mid-range jumper. He’s not a switchy defender and will more-often-than-not sink down in coverage when defending the pick-and-roll.
But he dares those defenders to attack him. A lot of the time, they won’t. When they attack Marjanovic with a head of steam towards the basket you get results such as these.
When a ball handler sees the behemoth that rests before him, that mid-range jumper is exactly what Marjanovic wants. In this instance, it’s a mind game. And Marjanovic came out victorious.
Opposing teams shoot 5.9 percentage points worse at the rim when Marjanovic is in the game compared to him off the court, that ranks him in the 85th percentile among all bigs. Teams also shoot less at the rim with Marjanovic in, 3.6 percent less, to be exact, which also ranks in the 85th percentile among bigs. He’s not swatting shots five rows deep, but he’s forcing shooters to avoid the paint at all costs. His on-court defensive rating of 100.7 is the best of any Clipper who has played over 100 minutes this season.
Marjanovic has always been a confounding player, especially as the game transitions into a blisteringly fast pace, but Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has found that he’s a necessity to their team’s success. Rivers told reporters during the first week of the season that “Boban deserves to play. He’s going to play. He’s going to play every night, and on the nights when he’s doing well, he’s going to keep playing.”
The Clippers most effective lineup of the season thus far includes Marjanovic. In 69 possessions with Marjanovic, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, and Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers have a net rating of plus-36.1 with an offensive of 130.4 and a defensive rating of 94.3.
Boban Marjanovic has been an essential piece to the Clippers 5-4 start to the season. In a league becoming more and more scarce when it comes to finding legitimate rim protectors, the Clippers had one on their bench the entire time. The Blake Griffin-to-Detroit trade last season could have been the beginning of an untimely rebuild for the Clippers, but the two major return pieces, Marjanovic and Harris, have taken off the cap on their future potential.
(All statistics via Basketball-Reference/NBA.com/Cleaning the Glass)