Meet the European Behemoth Who Risked an NBA Contract to Play a Bitter Rival

David Pick@@IAmDPickInternational Hoops InsiderJuly 19, 2015

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By all accounts, the San Antonio Spurs completely owned the 2015 NBA offseason.

R.C. Buford, Gregg Popovich and company allowed a few expendable players to walk, re-signed incumbent superstars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard and shocked the NBA universe by signing free agents LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.

The least-publicized move of San Antonio's offseason was perhaps its most curious, and surely its largest in the signing 7'3" Serbian giraffe Boban Marjanovic. Owner of a 7'8" wingspan and 9'7" standing reach, he has put pen to paper on a one-year deal with San Antonio, according to his agent, Misko Raznatovic.

The Spurs made his move to Texas official on Friday, confirming the 2015 Euroleague Center of the Year will serve as insurance for the NBA's deepest front line.

Undrafted in 2010 and overlooked for most of his career, Marjanovic, or the Bobinator as he's known overseas, is a late-blooming gentle giant who "didn't even exist" a few years ago, according to Borko Radovic, who worked with Marjanovic as an associate head coach in Belgrade.

"He wasn't even on the map," Radovic said of Marjanovic's status prior to last season. "When teams practiced, he was the last option off the bench."

This season, things clicked. Marjanovic ranked top three in the Euroleague in index rating (the overseas equivalent of PER), offensive rebounds, total rebounds, made field goals, made and attempted free throws and games started.

"Marjanovic was just too big to stop in Europe. ... He doesn't need to jump to dunk," said Jonathan Givony, founder of DraftExpress.com. "If any team can make him an NBA player, it's the Spurs. I would love to see him getting minutes when other teams are going small. The defensive component will be challenging of course."

Shortcomings aside, Marjanovic's competitive makeup should encourage Spurs fans.

In the days before his team's Serbian League championship game against crosstown rival Partizan Belgrade, Marjanovic fractured his foot, a devastating blow for Red Star Belgrade. Doctors ruled Marjanovic would need almost a full month of rest, and Red Star believed that hopes of winning the championship were doomed.

"It came in the worst timing because we didn't have a solid backup," said Radovic.

The magnitude of the rivalry between Partizan and Red Star Belgrade has no NBA equivalent. Fans brawl. Players brawl. Smoke flairs fly inside arenas, lighters, coins, drinks and cell phones hurtle towards players from the stands (soccer matches between the two clubs tend to end particularly ugly). It's fierce and bitter.

The rivalry transcends sport. And logic. And pain. So Marjanovic played.

"Marjanovic wasn't even at 50 percent during the finals. He was running around on one leg with a broken foot, but he was willing to come off the bench to help the team win," said Radovic.

Red Star swept Partizan 3-0, getting a shell of a performance from Marjanovic. But his presence on the court spoke volumes.

"He insisted on playing, and we admire him because he risked signing in the NBA for the team," Radovic said.

Fortunately, the risk paid off on both ends. Marjanovic came out of the series without exacerbating his injury and managed to pass the Spurs' physical.

According to sources, Marjanovic turned down more lucrative deals in Europe to fish the NBA market for interest. His camp had initial intentions of signing a long-term deal, but a one-season fallback pact with the Spurs and guaranteed incentives sold Marjanovic on making the jump to the NBA.

Misha Japaridze/Associated Press

"He needs minutes to be productive and time to adjust to the NBA, but I'm not sure that San Antonio have those to give him," said Radovic. "He is fighting for minutes with a deep rotation of skilled big men, and this might be a problem because he needs to develop and build confidence."

Marjanovic definitely needs to evolve on the defensive end to find his way into Popovich's rotation.

"He got abused in the Euroleague stepping outside the paint on the pick-and-roll," Givony said. "His lateral quickness and ability to cover ground in small spaces is very poor. He also doesn't have real explosiveness vertically. He is a below-the-rim guy."

As usual, the Spurs declined to comment on their recent acquisition, but they have taken a calculated risk on a proven international talent with a freakish frame and have managed to find yet another international prospect who fits the Spurs profile: soft-spoken, humble, zero ego and approachable.

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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