Boban’s audition gives SVG a summer to ponder ways to unlock his scoring potential

Boban Marjanovic averaged 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds over the season’s final four games while averaging 23 minutes.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

Stan Van Gundy saw what fans saw with Boban Maranovic last year. Put him in the game and points and rebounds added up quickly. Van Gundy also saw what fans didn’t see – most of them, at least – at the other end.

When Marjanovic scored seven points with two rebounds in the last 7:42 of a game that realistically killed the Pistons’ playoff chances – a March 22 loss at Chicago to drop them to 34-38 – a reporter from his native Serbia asked Van Gundy why he doesn’t play more given his production over those last few minutes.

First, a word about Van Gundy. As hard as he tries to mask his contempt for the process, it takes every ounce of his fiber to deal with often-inane postgame questions after tough losses. He’s great with the media – more giving of his time, more thoughtful in his answers than 99.9 percent of history’s coaches – but after losses he’d rather endure two hours of oral surgery than five minutes of this sort of poking and prodding.

So any other time, his answer would have come with more rounded corners. But this time, here’s what he said: “The other end is the problem. If you were watching, he gave up about that many, too. He’s playing hard, but it’s tough. You’ve got to play him against certain guys that are not guys who can face up out on the floor and shoot the ball.”

That was before the final four games of the season with the Pistons all but officially eliminated and Van Gundy eager to get bigger glimpses of Marjanovic and Henry Ellenson. I don’t think what Marjanovic did over those four games came as any great revelation to him, but he at least supported Van Gundy’s belief in the potential of his ability to score against virtually anyone near the rim.

Marjanovic over those last four games averaged 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds – shooting 59 percent, drawing fouls and further exhibiting his incongruously soft shooting touch by knocking down free throws, to boot – in about 23 minutes a game.

The safe bet is still that Marjanovic is less the staple as Andre Drummond’s backup center as Aron Baynes has been the last two seasons, simply because Baynes was so rock solid and trustworthy in every aspect of the game and – especially this – because he was so versatile defensively and responsible and communicative at that end. More simply, Van Gundy trusted Baynes in every situation.

So there’ll be nights next season when Marjanovic plays sparingly because the other team’s backup center is a legitimate 3-point shooting threat and Van Gundy doesn’t want to risk the tradeoff, three for two. But those last four games … yeah, it got him thinking. He knows the league trend toward playing smaller is still expanding, but he doesn’t want it to render a scoring force like Marjanovic obsolete.

“As the league changes and you see some teams going to stretch fives and you see the greatness of some of these guards in pick-and-roll things, we need to give some good, hard looks at things we can do schematically to better contain those combinations and in particular get more use out of Boban,” he said. “How can we be able to use his offensive strengths and his size around the rim and still cover on the perimeter when people play a stretch five type of guy?”

The other wild card here is Ellenson, another uniquely talented offensive player who, at 20, could force Van Gundy’s hand in other ways to create playing time for him – maybe at center on those nights he’s the best matchup for whatever the opposition throws at the Pistons.

In any case, once Van Gundy gets a chance to put his coaching hat back on – after the off-season business of the draft, free agency and trades shape the 2017-18 roster – he’s going to have a busy summer, scheming and charting ways to make 29 other coaching staffs have to fret those times next season when the Pistons wave their 7-foot-4 scoring force into games.