Boban Marjanovic sometimes seems like a walking punch line. Not in a mean-spirited way, mind you - he's far too charismatic to be teased, and far too good-natured to mind if he was. But the simple reality that he is probably the largest human being you will ever encounter is impossible to ignore.
While his size remains his most important attribute as a player, Marjanovic has shown through the first three games of the Sixers' first-round playoff series against the Nets that he is no joke.
He's averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 17.3 minutes per game this series. Thursday night in Brooklyn, he posted 14 points, made all eight of his foul shots during the Sixers' 131-115 win, and was so vital that Brett Brown inserted him into the game with five fouls and just under nine minutes to play.
It was a reasonable choice, too, given how much better the Sixers were playing with Marjanovic on the floor than Greg Monroe. Marjanovic, who fouled out with 7:05 left on a suspect offensive foul call, was a plus-18, while Monroe was a minus-9.
The Nets haven't had much success drawing Marjanovic away from the rim and exposing his lack of foot speed. He's generally dropped deep in pick-and-roll coverage, giving the Sixers' perimeter defenders time to recover when they fall a step behind, and he's even survived on one or two switches against guards like D'Angelo Russell and Caris LeVert.
"I'm pretty tall, you know," Marjanovic told reporters, an understatement. "The effect is my size. Sometimes just to be there, my size helps me to protect the basket. We work on that, we prepare for that … we must stick to the plan."
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Brooklyn has shot a combined 5 for 13 against Marjanovic in Games 2 and 3, per NBA.com/Stats. The unlikely duo of Marjanovic and Monroe is not in Joel Embiid's league defensively, but the idea of Marjanovic helping to hold down the fort if Embiid misses Game 4 shouldn't be terrifying to the Sixers.
Marjanovic, though an historically efficient player, might eventually regress in these playoffs.
Monroe's comment that Marjanovic "hasn't missed from midrange since I've been here" is not a massive exaggeration. The odds are his jumper will cool off a little, and some of the shots the Nets are missing around the rim will start dropping.
In that event, Brown likes Mike Scott as a small-ball five contingency plan, as he showed Thursday. It appears rookie Jonah Bolden and Amir Johnson will not play significant playoff roles - although we would have said the same thing about Monroe a week or two ago.
For the time being, Brown can rely on Marjanovic. As Embiid's absence highlighted, the 7-foot-3 Serbian - always eager to praise his teammates - is more than a mere novelty.
"We need to hold each other," Marjanovic said. "Sometimes this happens - [Embiid] can be out or somebody else. We're here together and we helped each other to get this win and play the game better and better."
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