The San Antonio Spurs have been the unanimous winners of the NBA offseason. The 2014 champs reloaded with the additions of Ray McCallum, David West (at the veteran’s minimum) and of course, LaMarcus Aldridge, while retaining Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. According to overseas reporter David Pick, it looks like the Spurs aren’t done yet.
The Spurs have reportedly signed Serbian Boban Marjanovic to a one-year deal. This may seem like a minor move, as it should in the short term, but Marjanovic is coming off one of the best Euroleague seasons ever:
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.
It’s not difficult to see why Marjanovic is having so much success. His 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-foot-7 reach make a 10-foot basket look like a nerf hoop. If you can get the ball to him inside, he only needs to reach his big paws up a couple feet to dunk. That’s a valuable asset in the modern game where finishing specialists (DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler) can thrive. As good as Marjanovic is at finishing, he’s still an elite post player as well:
7'4 center Boban Marjanovic shot 78% as a finisher and 46% posting up for Red Star in 2015. Efficient, imposing interior presence in Europe.
— Synergy Sports Tech (@SynergySST) July 10, 2015
Despite his size, Marjanovic is more of a finesse player in the post. He has nice touch around the basket and likes to use a looping right hook. Good luck blocking his shots with those mits and long arms. Marjanovic appears to be NBA ready offensively, but the other end of the floor is where he’ll really need to develop.
Remember, Marjanovic is 7-foot-3 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan. A player with that size shouldn’t block just 0.9 shots per game, which actually tied a career-high for him in the Euroleague. Marjanovic doesn’t have good lateral quickness or the motor to make up for it. He struggles mightily in the pick-and-roll game defensively with his limited mobility and isn’t a brick wall in the post either. This could be problematic in the modern game where many teams like to switch pick-and-rolls or have the big hedge out. The big man doesn’t appear to be capable of defending with either of those methods.
Marjanovic’s lack of athleticism is exposed on the defensive end as well. He doesn’t have the explosiveness to alter shots at the rim with regularity since he’s often out of position. He’s not a soft player, but he isn’t physical, either. Marjanovic can get bullied around by stronger, more athletic NBA players if he doesn’t toughen up his game next year. Luckily, he’s found the perfect home in San Antonio.
Tim Duncan and Aldridge are literally the two best big men in the league for Marjanovic to learn from. The wily vets can teach him more advanced post moves while helping him adjust to playing NBA defense. Marjanovic won’t become a better athlete or gain speed, but he can learn how to better use his size to his advantage. Gregg Popovich, who’s been an international savant of sorts, can mentor Marjanovic even if he won’t receive early playing time. European coaching legend Ettore Messina, who’s an assistant coach for the Spurs, will also be a tremendous asset to Marjanovic. Despite his vast professional experience, Marjanovic is still just 26 years old, so there’s plenty of time to learn.
The Spurs lucked out that since Marjanovic went undrafted in 2010, San Antonio was able to sign him without competition with no teams owning his rights. There’s no guarantee that the success he found in Europe will translate to the NBA, but the outlook is encouraging.
I asked advanced stats guru Kevin Pelton, who has projected WARP for international players in the past, if he’d calculated Marjanovic’s projected WARP yet, and he hasn’t. Nonetheless, he knows what to expect:
@The_MDubb Not yet but I know it will be good.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) July 11, 2015
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.