By: Will Burchfield
At Pistons media day on Monday, head coach Stan Van Gundy was running through his reasons for optimism ahead of the 2017-18 season.
He mentioned the team’s offseason acquisitions, Avery Bradley chief among them. He pointed to the growth of recent first-round draft picks Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson. He referenced the health of Reggie Jackson and the return of leading scorer Tobias Harris.
“And then sort of a wild card, and it’s incumbent on us to find the best way to use him, but Boban Marjanovic can be one of the most indefensible offensive forces in the game anytime he’s on the floor,” said Van Gundy.
As the saying goes, you can’t guard 7’3. Or is it 7’4?
It’s splitting hairs, really, and those on Marjanovic’s head grazed the ceiling in the Pistons’ press room on Monday as he took to the stage, stood on tip toe and flashed a playful smile.
Said Andre Drummond, a diminutive 6’11, “Who’s going to stop a 7’4 dude that has soft hands and can guard? What do you do with that?”
You play him, for one, and the Pistons didn’t do that enough a year ago. Marjanovic was stuck behind backup center Aaron Baynes, and only saw action in 35 games. In one of those, an early-winter tilt versus the Hornets, Marjanovic flat-out took over. His 19-rebound, 15-point performance — in just 22 minutes — was proof of what Van Gundy is preaching: The tallest player in the NBA can be unstoppable.
“I feel like this is called confidence,” Marjanovic said. “If you don’t feel like that, you better not go on the court. If you don’t feel like that and your confidence starts to be low, you can just run up and down and do nothing. I think this is just in your brain. You must do your job. I know my skills and what I do best, and I stick to do that.”
What he does best is control the rim. Rebounds are gimmes. Second-chance points are low-hanging fruit. Marjanovic’s height advantage is so stark that he barely has to leave his feet to outreach most players, even some centers. He simply thrusts his gangly arms into the air, and his massive hands take care of the rest.
He’s fresh off a performance in the European championships in which he helped Serbia to a second-place medal. And, as Van Gundy pointed out, Marjanovic was sparring in the paint with proven NBA big men such as Kristaps Porzingis (7’3) and Timofey Mozgov (7’1).
“He’s a tough guy to guard, and we have to take advantage of that,” said Van Gundy.
Baynes is gone, so Marjanovic will assume a bigger role this year. Is he ready, in his third NBA season, to become a rotational player? Does he know enough about the league to succeed?
“I’m 29 years old, I have 11 years professional experience,” Marjanovic said with a smile. “I think I know a lot.”
Here’s what Drummond knows: “I hate playing against him in practice. I can’t stand him. He’s just a large individual, such a skilled player. I’m really excited for him to have that role as my backup, because when he comes in the game it’s instant offense.”
Marjanovic laughed when told what Drummond had said, that he hates playing against his towering teammate.
“He said that? I don’t know, maybe he’s scared of my elbows,” said Marjanovic. “I don’t bite.”
He can, though, and with more opportunities the Pistons hope he will.
“He’s in a position to showcase the talent that everybody knows he has,” said Drummond.