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Spurs' Marjanovic goes from curiosity to contributor

Serbian big man just the latest international prospect that is paying off for San Antonio, all while becoming a social media sensation.

POSTED: Jan 30, 2016 11:53 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Since Christmas, Boban Marjanovic has scored in double figures seven times and has three double-doubles since January 21.

It began like a distant wave out beyond the horizon, building in size and unseen strength until finally hitting the beach.

Boban Mania.

It was just a month ago when 27-year-old Boban Marjanovic stood at the free throw line in the AT&T Center and heard the chant that came from the Spurs fans in the stands.

"MVP! MVP!"

It was facetious, of course, but only by a bit on a night when Tim Duncan sat out to rest sore knees and LaMarcus Aldridge could manage just six points.

The 7-foot-3 center from Serbia had scored 17 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting, pulled down four rebounds, blocked a shot, made a steal and even won a jump ball without ever leaving his feet while playing a key role in a 101-95 win over the Timberwolves.

An NBA career that began as a mere curiosity item way back in training camp has morphed into an Internet sensation as "The Bobinator" -- think Arnold Schwarzenegger with mad basketball skills.

He was a dominant player in Europe. That's why he came here.

– Spurs forward Boris Diaw

One fan set up the Twitter account (@didbobanplay) to keep track of his exploits. There are numerous online sites filled with photos of the big man with the huge hands that can make a gallon jug of iced tea look like he's holding a dainty teacup.

"Sometimes it actually worries me," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the groundswell surrounding the rookie. "I think the crowd, they really get a kick out of him and all that, but he's a basketball player. He's not some sort of an odd thing."

The Spurs, of all teams, are not in the freak show business, but in the constant pursuit of the best basketball talent on the planet. General manager R.C. Buford and his scouting staff beat the bushes in every corner of the globe to come up with the next Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Patty Mills (Australia), Tiago Splitter (Brazil) and so many others to continue chasing championships. Marjanovic is just the latest prospect brought into the fold.

"I am happy that the fans of San Antonio have been happy to see me play and give me support," said the affable big man. "It helps because I am a long way from home. But I am having the time of my life."

All while changing preconceived notions.

"I think people look at his size and sort of think he's a big stiff," veteran forward David West told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "But Boban's a hell of a player."

In fact, Marjanovic was an All-Euroleague first team member last season while helping his Red Star team in Belgrade win the Adriatic League championship. He was named the Serbian Super League MVP three consecutive years (2013-15) before signing a one-year, $1.2 million contract to join the Spurs last summer.

"He was a dominant player in Europe," said Boris Diaw. "Scoring, nobody could stop him there. That's why he came here."

In his breakout game last month against Minnesota, Marjanovic had stunning three-minute stretch when he poured in a dominating eight points. First there was an offensive rebound that he ripped from the grasp of Minnesota's 6-11 Gorgui Dieng and then rammed home a dunk. He followed that up with pair of hook shots and then closed out by gathering in a lob pass from teammate Diaw that he laid gently into the hoop.

"We can throw it up there and he can get it," said point guard Mills. "We can have all we can eat if that continues."

In a league that is moving increasingly toward up-tempo small ball, Marjanovic could look like a relic from an earlier time. His Red Star team often had to slow the pace and wait for the big man to get down the floor before starting to run the offense. But it might be worth the wait for a 290-pounder with a 7-8 wingspan and a standing reach of 9-7.

I didn't know what to expect. I just knew he was tall.

– Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

For the Spurs and "The Bobinator" it's been a period of mutual adjustment. His teammates have adapted in the way they feed him the ball -- no more bounce passes -- and the big man stays regularly after practices are finished to keep working on his skills and ways he can fit into the Spurs' system.

Two nights after the home fans chanted for him against the Timberwolves, Marjanovic came back against the Suns and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 15-minute span. That's a feat that had never been accomplished by any Spurs player for a franchise that has had its share of elite big men in Duncan, David Robinson and Artis Gilmore.

Marjanovic had the first double-double his career -- 17 points, 13 rebounds -- on Jan. 21 at Phoenix.

It's been a slow, steady process where Popovich has proceeded with caution. He's averaging just 8.6 minutes, six points and 3.6 rebounds. Yet the signs are there that there's more to come. Even if the boss isn't sure exactly what.

"He's tall," Popovich said. "I never saw him before. We just brought him. I don't know what else to tell you. I can't say I was more impressed or less impressed. I didn't know what to expect. I just knew he was tall.

"He's got a great touch. ... He just needs to get minutes. He's played some D-League games and gotten into a few games here. He's a good basketball player. It's the NBA, and lets see if he can adjust to it; see what happens. He's a quick learner. [Assistant coaches] Chad [Forcier] and Chip [Engelland] as usual have been working hard with him. Before practice, he comes every day; stays after practice or shoot-around."

Spurs lead assistant coach Ettore Messina coached against the big man in Europe.

"When he started at the beginning of the year, he was more of an attraction," Messina said. "Now people understand he's a valuable basketball player."

As Boban Mania grows.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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