The majority of players who make the transition from the European ranks, most notably the Euroleague to the NBA find it difficult to adjust and will ultimately leave without making a deserved mark in basketball’s number one league.
Very few have made an instant impact, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio perhaps being in the minority of exceptions but some tend to make an early living in the D-League before trying their luck once more in the NBA.
This year’s crop of Euroleague returnees include ex-Boston forward Gigi Datome, who was touted by legendary NBA television analyst Mike Fratello as a great player whom he had a lot of respect and admiration for and Macedonian big man Pero Antic … you know, that guy who after a solid rookie season in Atlanta, faded away until he was barely noticed. Both are now in the regular rotation at Fenerbahce.
In turn, Marcelinho Huertas, formally of Barcelona fame has finally made the decision to test NBA waters and be part of Kobe Bryant’s last season with the Lakers. But unfortunately, the once highly regarded point guard has made more appearances on Shaqtin’ A Fool rather than the NBA Top 10.
Then there is Serbian giant Boban Marjanovic, who tore it up for Crvena Zvezda Belgrade last season and is now at the San Antonio Spurs, a team run by new USA head coach Gregg Popovich, renowned for getting the best out of international talent.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw among other have all come under Popovich’s guidance and they have been successful NBA stars via San Antonio. Now, Marjanovic is looking to do the same. But he is aware that success doesn’t come overnight.
Assigned to the Spurs’ D-League affiliate in Austin, 7’4” Marjanovic looked to be quietly becoming another one of those promising bigs that had so much promise but turned out to be all smoke and no fire. Marjanovic is averaging 1.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 3.8 minutes in 10 appearances this season. That included one start at Denver in late-November.
On his D-League debut, Marjanovic wasted little time impressing Popovich and the Austin Spurs, with his consistency around the basket, surprisingly solid mid-range game and defensive capabilities including quick footwork as Austin recorded a 137-132 win over the Reno Bighorns.
Popovich quickly brought Marjanovic back into the San Antonio fold for their game with the Philadelphia 76ers, the weakest team in the NBA with a 1-20 record. San Antonio’s inclusion of the big Serb paid dividends as not only did they add another loss to the Sixers woeful record but they also gave Marjanovic some playing time to get used to his surroundings, Popovich allowed him to be free and express himself on the court.
In 17 minutes, Marjanovic posted an NBA career-high night of 18 points.
It’s a start for Marjanovic, Popovich is watching and using him to his strengths, something that perhaps most NBA teams fail to do with their newly-signed players that have headed over from the Euroleague.
Marjanovic has a great teacher in Popovich, and if the Serb listens plus is patient, he could be another of the great international NBA stars that came under the USA coach’s wing.