A few constants have defined the Clippers’ first three exhibitions: Suffocating defense. Praise for rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. A hurt Milos Teodosic.
Then there’s the thunderous applause Boban Marjanovic receives.
The 7-foot-3, 290-pound center from Serbia, entering his fourth NBA season, is the biggest man in a league with many. The mere sight of Marjanovic moving toward the scorer’s table to check in draws cheers as loud as or louder than those for any of his Clippers teammates, even though he averaged just 8.3 minutes in 20 games with them last season after arriving in a trade with Detroit.
"I hear the crowd every time; it's really amazing,” Marjanovic said. “You just hear the voice and you hear the crowd and you’re like, ‘Wow, I can do it.’ ”
The question the Clippers have is how much can he truly do?
If Marjanovic began his career as a curiosity, the Clippers have hopes he can develop into a consistent weapon whose utility extends beyond situations in which his height offers a matchup nightmare.
“The biggest step for him probably is if he can guard guys that can pop and shoot,” coach Doc Rivers said before the team’s public practice Monday at USC. “That’s a tough one for any big let alone Boban, but even on that, if the guy’s making shots who’s doing that, but not threes, you still leave him out there because maybe Boban creates more problems on the other end. And it’s not just his scoring; he gets fouled. When you get fouled the defense sags; there’s a lot of positive things to that. And he’s a good free throw shooter so there’s a lot of good things to that.”
Marjanovic has scored 28 points in 19 minutes this preseason and made 10 of 11 free throws. He scored 11 points in seven minutes Saturday in a victory over the Lakers, including a dunk off an offensive rebound that required him only to lift his heels, eliciting gasps from the Honda Center crowd.
He toyed with backup forward Mike Scott during one post-up at Monday’s practice, holding the ball over Scott’s head at least a foot out of reach. His talents aren’t limited to within 10 feet of the basket, either, and during training camp in Hawaii he impressed team officials as he made three-pointer after three-pointer after one practice.
“If I play one day, one day not play, I’m good,” Marjanovic said. “If the team is winning and we’re playing really good — everybody is part of the team. Everybody is a small part.”
He remains a work in progress. Rivers is comfortable playing the 30-year-old for long stretches but conceded he doesn’t always know what he will get if teams counter with lineups featuring smaller, quicker players.
“Putting him in the other night [the Lakers] went small, we went with Boban anyway and they couldn’t handle that,” Rivers said. “But that could have gone the other way and I think with Boban you’ve just got to throw him in there and see how it goes.
“I really believe we don’t really know half the time. Sometimes you can predict if they have a certain lineup that he’ll be effective, but there are some nights I’m going to throw him out there [and] I don’t know, and neither does the other team, and it’s a game of chicken. But his size is a factor.”
Few would disagree.
“He’s huge,” Lakers forward Michael Beasley said Saturday. “As long as that guy can stay up and get up and down the floor, no reason he shouldn’t have a job forever.”
Steve Ballmer spoke to the team before Monday’s practice, as has become a preseason custom. The former Microsoft executive is entering his fifth season as the team’s owner and is leading a push to construct a new arena in Inglewood that would tentatively open in 2024.
Ballmer watched practice from a courtside seat underneath a basket. His message to the players, Rivers said, was about “being gritty.”
“I tell him all the time it’s good for him to get around the guys,” Rivers said. “I think that’s important for him. He enjoys it, the players enjoy it. You know he’s done pretty well in his life so he has a pretty good message.”