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March 11, 2019

Practice notes: Sixers look forward to Boban Marjanovic return on Tuesday night

One talented big man rejoined the Sixers on Sunday afternoon in Joel Embiid. Another, Boban Marjanovic, will make his triumphant return to the court for Philadelphia against Cleveland on Tuesday night.

"I think I feel ready," Boban said on Monday afternoon. "It's not easy to stay out and not easy for your mind to watch your guys when they need help."

His presence on the interior has been missed on both ends of the floor, which has been obvious to outsiders and team personnel alike. With Embiid and Boban on the shelf, the Sixers were missing the size they like to put near the rim on both ends, leaving them without a true rim protector in the group.

But the Sixers feel they have been missing more than that. Boban's presence as a teammate is not just viral content — that stuff is all great, too, for the record — it's a needed component of Philadelphia's locker room. Brett Brown noted that while Boban was waiting and working to get back on the court, he traveled with the team and maintained relationships with each and every member of the organization.

"He is spectacularly genuine as a teammate. He goes way out of his way," Brown said at practice Monday. "He wants to like, give everybody a fist bump before we go play a game. Twice now I've had people come back in and look around to see who's in the locker room so that Boban could leave. He's just a tremendous teammate, he's a wonderful person. I'm just so happy for him what we all thought was maybe going to be a season-ending injury in New Orleans wasn't the case."

For those of you who may have set the memory aside, the spill he took near the end of a close win over the Pelicans was pretty gruesome:

The veteran center credited his prep work and the people around him (in Philly and elsewhere) who helped him avoid catastrophe with all the work he does to keep his body in the best possible shape. 

"What [came] through my mind at that time I cannot explain, but I can say I got lucky," Boban said. "All my warming up, all my extra work, what I do before practice and after practice, that paid off...all these people who [have] worked with me so far, they do great job. They saved my career."

The question Brown has to answer now is whether Boban can establish himself as the team's backup center between now and the playoffs. Based on what we've seen since he arrived, the team seems determined to give him that chance.

There has been open debate about Philadelphia's backup center position for months now, and it's an especially important spot when your franchise player is the starter there. You need someone who can give you quality minutes when your best player is off the floor, but you can't sink a ton of resources there because of the max contract Embiid is on and the positional value of a true center in today's league. All their options come with warts — Boban's foot speed, Jonah Bolden's poor defensive reads, and Amir Johnson's age all hurt them on the floor.

Brown seems most interested in seeing if they can overcome the first problem in that group. The Sixers made no secret of the defensive changes they made over the summer in order to prepare themselves for a deeper playoff run. Brown cited big men they could face during an Eastern Conference playoff run — Milwaukee's Brook Lopez, Boston's Al Horford, and Toronto's Marc Gasol to name a few — as the sort of floor-tilting bigs they have to be aware of when deciding how their centers will defend.

Ultimately, the Sixers have a vision of what they want to do in the paint on either end, and they will try their best to establish that with the time they have left in the regular season.

"There's a rim protection that's elite. You go Joel and you go Boban, your rim protection defense, your ability I think to defensive rebound as well, you would think jumps up dramatically," Brown said. "Schematically [you have to] change some things, what do you [have] to do to guard in May and June? How do you stay on the floor?... I hope that we can retain that two-headed presence at the rim for 48 minutes."

Whether that experiment ultimately proves worthwhile is up for debate. Philadelphia's numbers with Boban at center have been a bit underwhelming so far, but the team has been in a state of flux over the last month. The key here is that they have the option available to them, with a bit of time left to figure out if everyone's favorite friendly giant is suited for primetime.

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