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Boban Mania: Marjanovic jumps into NBA with both feet – and lands dunking on someone

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Boban Marjanovic got his big break in 2010.

Or so it seemed.

After four professional seasons in Serbia, Marjanovic appeared ready for the bigger stage. European powerhouse CSKA Moscow signed the 21-year-old center to a three-year contract.

But Marjanovic played part in a flop. The coach that signed him was fired after just five months. CSKA loaned Marjanovic to a lesser Lithuanian team then released him.

He eventually signed in the Adriatic League, where he developed into a star. Marjanovic played for the Hawks’ summer-league team in 2013, but nothing came of it. He looked headed for a nice, safe career in Europe.

Then the Spurs called last summer offering a contract.

After what he’d been through with CSKA, how quickly did Marjanovic choose to leave his comfort zone for the NBA?

“No consideration,” Marjanovic said. “Immediately. No thinking.”

Nearly as quickly, Marjanovic has made his mark in the NBA.

Marjanovic has played just 180 minutes, but he has produced like an all-time great in them. Boban Mania is sweeping the league – fans rallying behind a player who’s part Rudy Gobert, part Brian Scalabrine, part Monstar.

Yet, Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich throws a bucket of cold water on the hysteria, unready to anoint Marjanovic.

“The more minutes he gets, the more I’ll be able to tell if he’s somebody that’s going to have an impact in the program or not,” Popovich said.

For now, Marjanovic is, quite literally, the NBA’s biggest novelty.

He’s 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and hands engulf an average man’s:

Marjanovic puts his elite frame to good use on the court. Though his playing time is a tiny sample, his statistics are astounding. How many players with even 50 minutes have completed a season topping his…

Combination of points (24.8) and rebounds (14.4) per 36 minutes (edit: since the NBA-ABA merger)? Nobody.

Win shares per 48 minutes (.357)? Nobody.

PER (31.8)? Nobody.

Marjanovic at least has company there. Wilt Chamberlain also had a 31.8 PER in 1962-63, and Stephen Curry is posting a 32.2 PER this season.

Simply, Marjanovic produces like an all-time great when on the court. He’s just not on the court much.

Marjanovic scored 18 points in 17 minutes on 8-of-10 shooting against the 76ers in December. He sat the next game.

He had a three-game string later in the month with 10 points and seven rebounds, 17 points and four rebounds, seven points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes each contest. That sustained success didn’t even preserve his spot in the rotation.

In all, Marjanovic has played in just 24 of San Antonio’s 42 games. A majority of his minutes have come in the fourth quarter with the Spurs ahead more than 15.

Unsurprisingly, fans  have embraced the Marjanovic show. Not only does his presence in the game typically signify San Antonio’s dominance, he keeps it going in incredible ways.

Marjanovic has shown touch as a shooter:

And as a passer:

And, of course, he’s a bludgeoning finisher:

But when fans chanted “MVP!” during Marjanovic free throws, Popovich shuddered.

“Sometimes it actually worries me,” Popovich said. “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.”

Marjanovic doesn’t see the fans’ support as harmful.

“They give me some power,” he said.

Yet Popovich still finds more reason for concern, particularly noting Marjanovic’s speed.

Marjanovic is slow. That’s a downside of his size. And as we’ve seen, teams are better than ever at going small and exposing immobile big men.

Popovich has carefully picked when Marjanovic plays, not forcing him into those difficult situations. But for Marjanovic eventually to receive a bigger role, he must face key questions:

Can he handle more minutes without becoming fatigued? Can he keep up with smaller, faster opposing lineups?

The answers could prove huge for the Spurs as they transition to the Kawhi LeonardLaMarcus Aldridge era.

Aldridge famously prefers not to play center. That works fine with Tim Duncan right now, but Aldridge is nine years younger than Duncan. What happens when* Duncan retires? Could Marjanovic start at center with the jump-shooting Aldridge at power forward?

*If?

First things first, San Antonio must re-sign Marjanovic before counting on him long term. The 27-year-old becomes a free agent this summer when his one-year, $1.2 million contract expires.

Despite Popovich’s reservations, the Spurs will probably offer Marjanovic the $1.5 million qualifying offer. That’ll make him a restricted free agent and subject him to the Gilbert Arenas provision.

The Arenas provision prevents other teams from signing a player to an offer sheet that starts above the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,628,000 next season). But they can jack up the salary in the third season to what the max would’ve been without the Arenas provision, as the Rockets did with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. They can also add a fourth year that offers a 4.1% raise on the third year.

For Marjanovic, that means the highest-paying offer sheet he can sign projects to be worth $58,110,398 over five years:

  • 2016-17: $5,628,000
  • 2017-18: $5,881,260
  • 2018-19:$22,832,503
  • 2019-20:$23,768,635

If the Spurs don’t match a back-loaded offer sheet, Marjanovic’s cap hit will be his average salary ($14,527,599 in the case of the projected max) each season with his new team.

If San Antonio matches, Marjanovic’s cap hit will be his actual salary. That’d cause obvious complications if he’s earning more than $20 million in a few seasons.

Marjanovic’s situation will also be difficult to manage next summer.

The Spurs don’t have Marjanovic’s full Bird Rights, just his Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights). Unless they ink him to a deal that starts at $ 1.44 million or less – which seems unlikely – they’ll need cap space or another exception to re-sign him. Using the non-taxpayer exception – or, less likely, bi-annual exception – would hard-cap San Antonio. That could get tricky with more than $80 million in committed salary and player options for Duncan, Manu Ginobili and David West – all of whom could be seeking raises.

Will anyone see the Spurs’ predicament and Marjanovic’s potential and pounce?

Far more teams will have enough cap space this summer to sign a star than stars will be available. Some teams that strike out will play it safe and split their room on role players.

But will anyone swing for the fences? If a team isn’t satisfied with incremental improvement – fearing the treadmill of mediocrity – Marjanovic offers plenty of upside.

Just look what he’s doing right now.

There are major questions about the sustainability of this production, but Marjanovic has plenty of margin for error while remaining elite. There’s reason to be tantalized.

Marjanovic also has reason to stay in San Antonio, where he plays for a winning team with an excellent record of player development. Does he want to re-sign with the Spurs?

“This is my dream,” Marjanovic said.

Marjanovic offers little else about his plans – for the rest of this season and free agency. He just hopes for the best.

“If you don’t think positive,” Marjanovic said, “you’ll never get a chance to do something in your life.”

Our Eastern Conference predictions: Philadelphia or Milwaukee, who ya got?

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The NBA season tips-off Tuesday night, and that means one thing:

It’s predictions time.

We’ve run through some postseason awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year — and now we stick our neck out and make our predictions on how the Eastern Conference will shake out.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks.

THE EASTERN CONFERENCE

Kurt Helin
1. Milwaukee
2. Philadelphia
3. Boston
4. Toronto
5. Brooklyn
6. Indiana
7. Miami
8. Orlando
Eastern Conference Finals: Philadelphia over Milwaukee.

While there are some interesting storylines up and down the East, this is ultimately a two-team race and the only way Boston or anyone else gets into the mix is thanks to an in-season trade. Milwaukee is a legitimate favorite, but I like Philadelphia’s length and defense to smother Milwaukee in the playoffs. Yes, that means I am making a big bet on Ben Simmons taking a step forward as a shot creator and leader, but I believe that by April the Sixers will have figured out their offense. After the top four in those standings, things could shake out in almost any order and there’s a legit chance Chicago or Detroit cracks the top eight too. Boston and Toronto are good and should advance out of the first round of the playoffs, although Indiana could crack that group if Victor Oladop returns to his old form once healthy.

Dan Feldman:
1. Milwaukee
2. Philadelphia
3. Boston
4. Toronto
5. Miami
6. Orlando
7. Brooklyn
8. Indiana
Eastern Conference Finals: Milwaukee over Philadelphia

With all its new pieces, Philadelphia should get better as the season progresses. The 76ers also matchup well with Milwaukee. That sets up to be a great Eastern Conference finals. In the end, the Bucks look primed.
There’s a glut of teams from about fourth through 10th. I think the Pistons will make the playoffs, but with several teams barely over 50% playoff odds, Detroit still finishes ninth in my predicted standings. The Bulls aren’t far behind, either.

Dane Delgado:
Eastern Conference Finals: Milwaukee over Philadelphia

The Eastern Conference is more wide open this season… or is it? The same four teams are expected to be battling for a top spot, and we don’t know who will be the best come next spring. A rise through the postseason won’t necessarily be predicated on regular-season success. The Sixers, Bucks, Raptors, and Celtics will all be vying for the final spot, and all four teams will be looking to capitalize on three main factors: health, depth, and star power. Milwaukee has the best chance of having all three thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. They’ll have their challengers, but I’m betting on the ECF loss from last season galvanizing last year’s MVP.

 

LeBron James’ high school jersey goes for $187,500 at auction

AP
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We got word that LeBron James’ jersey from high school was going to be headed to auction soon, and rumors were that it would fetch a high price thanks to the phenomenon that was “The Chosen One”.

LeBron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary’s uniform has now gone through the process at Goldin Auctions, and it’s reportedly set a record for a James-worn jersey at $187,500.

Via Twitter:

This seems like a ridiculous price for a piece of sports memorabilia that wasn’t even part of James’ impressive NBA run. Something from his time as a member of a championship team has to be worth more, no? Then again, one of those might not ever become available. This might be the best you can get if you’re a diehard LeBron fan.

I wonder if the owner of this new jersey will show up wearing it at Summer League next year? No better way to top the constant oneupsmanship of obscure jerseys in Las Vegas by showing up in a kit that cost more than a three-bedroom ranch home in Northeastern Ohio.

PBT Podcast: Our NBA predictions for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Champion, and more

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Who will take home the NBA MVP hardware this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo? James Harden? Stephen Curry?

What about Rookie of the Year? Can anyone top Zion Williamson? What would it take for Ja Morant or anyone else to get into the conversation?

Finally, what team will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season? Will it be a team from Los Angeles? What about Philadelphia? Milwaukee? Can Houston or Utah get in on the conversation?

Dan Feldman from NBC Sports joins me in the latest PBT Podcast and get into all of that, making their season predictions for this NBA season.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he’s going to be ‘more vocal’ this season

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Last season’s loss to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals stung Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So much so that the NBA MVP admitted it took several days for him to be able to sleep at night after he and the Milwaukee Bucks blew a 2-0 lead against the eventual NBA champion Raptors.

Antetokounmpo said his priority during the offseason was to become a better leader, both on and off the court.

“Mostly, you just gotta be more vocal,” Antetokounmpo said. “You gotta lead by example. You gotta be able to accept criticism by your coach, by your teammates, and be OK with it. That’s what a leader does. I know that my team knows who I am. They trust me. They know I’m going to put my body and everything I have on the line for this team. By doing that, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Bucks won a league-best 60 games a season ago, and took home MVP, Coach of the Year (Mike Budenholzer) and Executive of the Year (general manager Jon Horst) honors. But their goal was to bring the city of Milwaukee its first NBA title since 1971. That didn’t happen.

Now, with both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James out west, Kevin Durant on the shelf in Brooklyn and the core of Antetokounmpo, fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, first-team all-defensive guard Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez back together, anything less than another deep playoff run for the Bucks will be deemed a failure.

“The message to the team won’t be that different than what it was going into last season,” said Budenholzer, who is entering his second season in Milwaukee. “Really, our attack point is just what are we doing every day? How are we getting better every day? How are we competing every day? Are we playing unselfishly? Are we playing together? All those things that are just our core beliefs. If we’re doing those on a day-in and day-out basis, the chips will fall where they may.”

The Bucks open the season Oct. 24 in Houston.

Kyle Korver

Bucks guard Kyle Korver said his new team is like a “more organized version” of the Cleveland Cavaliers teams he played on with LeBron James.

“I think that there’s a ton of freedom here for players to do what they do,” he said. “There’s a lot of special talent – unique talent – on this team, and (Budenholzer) gives us a lot of freedom to kind of figure some things out, and we did that in Cleveland, too. Let the great players be great, and just kind of give them space, and we all find our spots to contribute and to be effective.”

Korver signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee in July. The 17-year veteran reunites with Budenholzer, who coached Korver in Atlanta in 2015, when Korver made his only NBA All-Star team and Budenholzer won his first NBA Coach of the Year award.

Korver ranks fourth in NBA history in 3-pointers made with 2,351.

BROGDON OUT, MATTHEWS IN

The Bucks lost former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana in free agency. Budenholzer said he thinks the additions of sharpshooter Korver and veteran two-way wing Wes Matthews will help fill the void. Matthews was the 2005 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball and played his college ball at nearby Marquette.

“Coming back home, it’s a sentimental feeling and one you can’t quite describe,” Matthews said. “To see the success, the growth of the city and the growth of the state, what this Bucks team and organization has done, I come back and I don’t even recognize some of this stuff around here. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

BAND OF BROTHERS

Milwaukee will start the season with two pairs of brothers, as Robin Lopez joins twin brother Brook, and Giannis will have his older brother, Thanasis, on the roster. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who last played in the NBA in 2016 for the Knicks, signed a two-year contract in July.

“What a great story for Giannis and Thanasis and Brook and Robin to play together,” Budenholzer said. “There’s probably a few little things that we’ve got to be conscientious of: Make sure that they’re not always together, so on so forth. And Robin and Brook, there’s been a lot of comments about how we’re going to manage them in the locker room.”

DONTE’S PEAK

Milwaukee’s 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo will look to re-establish himself after dealing with a heel injury last season. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 4.9 points on 40.3% shooting in 27 games a season ago.

“(I just want to) keep getting better,” DiVincenzo said. “Keep getting better every day, keep building my confidence, figure my spots because it’s a long year.”

LOOMING QUESTION

How much longer will Giannis Antetokounmpo be in Milwaukee?

Antetokounmpo can be an unrestricted free agent next summer. At that point, the Bucks can offer him a five-year supermax extension. Horst told a crowd at an offseason fan event that he intends to offer the extension to the three-time All-Star (and was fined for saying so by the NBA).

“I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it’s disrespectful toward my teammates talking about my free agency and what I’m going to do. So when the time is right, we’re all going to talk about it.”

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