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Can the Clippers Get More out of Boban Marjanovic?

Boban is something of a gimmick, but could the big man thrive in a bigger role?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers snagged Boban Marjanovic in the Blake Griffin trade last year in order to help make the money work. Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and the pick (that became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) were the real prizes for the Clips in the deal, while Boban and his $7 million salary was essentially a throw-in. Marjanovic would go on to play in 19 games after coming to L.A., most often in a mop-up role. Doc Rivers would occasionally deploy the 7’3” behemoth for extended chunks against teams with legitimate centers like the Blazers, Nuggets or Jazz, as well.

Whether Boban actually sees a larger role this coming season remains to be seen. As of now, it appears as though Marcin Gortat will be LAC’s starting center, while Montrezl Harrell will eat up the lion’s share of the minutes behind him. I would imagine we’ll continue to see Marjanovic play sparingly, likely as a change-of-pace option for Rivers in certain situations.

Is Boban actually capable of playing a bigger role? Or has the pace-and-space, small-ball style of the league rendered lumbering giants like him largely unplayable?

While he has some skills, we know this guy is in the NBA because he’s tall. He may be light on his feet for a guy his size, but by NBA standards he’s pretty slow. That’s something that doesn’t really come into play on the offensive end of the floor, but smart teams nowadays are excellent about seeking out the slow-footed types and isolating them in space on defense. Just remember how useless Ryan Anderson was for the Rockets last season against the Warriors.

We know what Boban brings. When he’s out there, he’s incredibly efficient in terms of scoring and grabbing rebounds. He played 15 minutes as a starter for the Clips in the penultimate preseason game against Denver. He managed to put up 14 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks in said 15 minutes. In the next game, Boban finished with a line of 18 points and 12 boards in 17 minutes. Nobody puts up those kinds of numbers with so little playing time.

His potential usefulness on offense speaks for itself. Marjanovic doesn’t just try and post everyone up. He has been a willing screen-setter and, while his rolls to the basket don’t exactly conjure memories of DeAndre Jordan flying to the rim, he’s still a hittable target. If teams are going to switch non-centers onto him in screen-and-roll situations, that’s a matchup the Clippers need to exploit while he’s out there.

Just take this example from early in the Denver game. Marjanovic sets a high ball screen near the elbow, and the Nuggets switch Paul Millsap onto him. Boban carries Millsap deep into the paint and seals him off right under the rim. If Danilo Gallinari can get him the ball it’s an easy 2. Instead, Gallo wound up settling for a tougher fallaway jumper from the baseline.

Look at this absurdity:

Find him, Gallo!

Boban’s hard screens certainly pack a punch, but he’s also surprisingly nimble on the slip screen. Most defenders aren’t expecting the big man to slide through the screen and dart to the rim, but he can do just that. Gallo rises to shoot before doing a good job of finding the rollin’ Boban here.

He ultimately decides to take it to the hole, where he gets fouled, but help defenders see it coming and shuffle into the paint in support. Once Boban hauls in the pass, he’s got plenty of options. Both Avery Bradley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are wide open from deep if he wants them:

DeAndre Jordan was underrated offensively for the Clippers thanks to the gravity he brought rumbling to the rim. Boban obviously isn’t going to be swooping in and throwing down alley-oops like DJ did, but he certainly forces opposing defenses to account for him.

Obviously, things get a little more hairy on the other end of the floor. Boban being massive is a useful defensive trait, but centers can no longer just lurk in the paint all day long defensively. Opposing teams are going to drag Boban’s man away from the rim and try to force the Clippers to switch him onto speedier wings or guards. The Nuggets essentially did this right away, and they got a wide-open Jamal Murray 3-pointer out of it. Marjanovic doesn’t really try to get out on Murray as he comes around the Nikola Jokic screen, and the possession subsequently comes to a splashy end for the Nuggets.

Jokic is a large man in his own right, so I’m not saying it should be easy for Boban to get through his screen. Still, that shot is way too comfortable for Murray. His relative lack of mobility will hurt the Clippers big time on plays like this.

Marjanovic showed the occasional sign of being able to step out and move his feet on defense during the preseason, but it’s safe to say that putting Boban on skates is not something the Clippers want to be testing regularly.

Is Boban a gimmick? Maybe, but he’s our gimmick. There’s also no denying his usefulness, particularly on the offensive end. His presence gives Rivers a unique weapon to deploy in certain situations that call for it. There isn’t a defender in the league (okay, maybe Rudy Gobert) that can bother Boban if he has the ball with deep position. Watching him gobble up offensive rebounds and dunk without jumping has an awful lot of comedic value.

He can’t play extended minutes because the Clippers will get eaten alive defensively while he’s out there, especially against small-ball teams like Golden State and Houston. As fun as it would be to see what kind of stat line Marjanovic could put up if he got 30 minutes, it’s just not a tenable strategy if the Clips actually want to win games. Instead, he can be unleashed for a handful of minutes at a time if the Clippers find themselves in a pinch offensively, especially against teams that run more traditional lineups with other bigs.

As much fun as it is to watch Boban do his thing, it’s probably safe to say he’s best suited in his current “break glass in case of emergency” role.