The good news is that, over the last three seasons, NBA teams have a .642 winning percentage in games in which Boban Marjanovic plays at least 20 minutes for them. The bad news is that there have only ever been 14 such games, for reasons that are plenty obvious.
The only certainty is that life is about to get uncomfortably interesting for the 76ers as they prepare to take the court without Joel Embiid for at least the next three games as the All-Star center and MVP candidate recovers from what the team is calling “left knee soreness.” The hope is that this particular situation will resolve itself in a manner similar to the handful of health scares that Embiid has endured dating back to the start of last season. He missed a game against Portland on Dec. 30 after a stint on the injury report with the same condition, but has been healthy and productive ever since.
At this point, there is no reason to think that this is anything more serious than an abundance of caution. In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the Sixers said that Embiid had an MRI that revealed no structural damage, which is a significant thing.
“He’s at a stage where he just felt uncomfortable with it, so he had an MRI on it, it’s a little bit of tendinitis, it’s stuff I think is quite common actually,” Brown said. “But we will miss him for a week and then we will reevaluate it.
“The bottom line is, nobody needs to read into anything here. This is an NBA athlete that has had some soreness in a knee, that has had an MRI, and we all should move on. We’ll miss him obviously, playing wise, but it’s not anything that isn’t completely pointed toward keeping him ready, and especially ready when it matters most at the end of the year.”
At the very least, though, the development highlights one of the lingering questions about this Sixers rotation as it attempts to become the best version of itself heading into the playoffs in a couple of months. Rim protection has been a problem throughout the last two seasons whenever Embiid has been on the bench. Rather than looking for an upgrade on the free-agent market this offseason, the Sixers brought back Amir Johnson back on one-year minimum deal. But by the end of December, he was out of the rotation, with Mike Muscala getting most of the minutes at the five when Embiid went to the bench. Since Jan. 1, Johnson has played in just four of the Sixers’ 21 games, totaling roughly 45 minutes.
Now, not only is Muscala gone, but he is replaced by a player in Marjanovic who is almost his exact opposite, a lumbering 7-foot-3 giant who simply is not built to play the up tempo, well-spaced offensive game that the Sixers prefer.
Marjanovic started two games for the Clippers earlier this season, both of them wins. In fact, teams are 4-2 in his career when he starts a game for them. But he has never started more than two games in a row, and it remains to be seen just how heavily the Sixers can afford to lean on him.
Apart from Johnson, the other option is for Brown to go with rookie Jonah Bolden, who would at least allow the Sixers to play their up-tempo style.
The early results with Marjanovic on the court have not been great in his early going with the Sixers. In 52 minutes, opponents are have an offensive rating of 120.1 with him in the game compared with 109.1 with him out of the game. By comparison, opponents have an offensive rating of 113.6 when Embiid is not on the court this season, while averaging 6.6 more points per 100 possessions than they do when he is on the court.
The Sixers have been much better defensively with Bolden on the court (a 109.5 rating, compared with 109.3 with him off the court), but much of that time has seen him playing the four. According to my count, in 61 minutes as the primary big, opponents have posted a 115.5 O-Rating with a .550 effective field goal percentage.
“I feel that I need to learn — we need to learn," Brown said last week, before the Embiid injury. "We want the regular season to do that. With Boban, I want to give him the chance more than go away from him, than not.”