30 year old Nemanja Bjelica averaged 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 20.5 minutes over 67 games in his third NBA campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season.
But, those numbers didn’t entirely indicate the kind of impact that he had.
The 6’10” forward shot 41.5 percent from three-point range, a notable improvement over his 31.6 percent mark in 2016-2017.
Further, when Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury towards the end of the year, coach Tom Thibodeau asked Bjelica to start. In 21 games in the starting five, he put up 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 34.0 minutes per contest.
Most importantly, his efficiency remained in tact. He shot 41.6 percent from three as a starter.
Therefore, while he clearly fell short of garnering universal interest this summer in free agency, he was expected to receive calls from multiple teams due to his size, versatility on both ends of the floor and ability to knock down the deep ball.
He originally agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, but then reconsidered and backed out, citing “family, professional and personal concerns”.
As a result, Bjelica was expected to return to Europe.
However, that’s not happening anymore.
A royal surprise
On Saturday, Bjelica agreed to a three-year, $20.5 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, per Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. It’ll be a significant financial upgrade over his original deal with the Sixers.
Via Charania, Vlade Divac played a huge role in the Serbian’s lucrative signing.
“I spent a lot of time talking with Vlade and as an icon in our country, he has a unique perspective on what it takes to put yourself in a successful NBA situation and what it takes as a player to perform in that situation,” Bjelica said after signing the deal, per Yahoo Sports. “The organization’s belief in and commitment to me overwhelmed me and my family. I am ready to do everything I can to help the Kings and be a part of the Sacramento community.”
It’s unclear whether or not Bjelica will play the three or the four for Sacramento. If he sees time at small forward, he will have to eclipse Justin Jackson on the depth chart. If he’s used at power forward, he might have to surpass Marvin Bagley III, Zach Randolph, Skal Labissiere, and Harry Giles.
The presence of centers Kosta Koufos, Deyonta Davis and Willie Cauley-Stein suggests that he probably won’t be given an opportunity to play the five in any small-ball lineups.
Therefore, it seems more likely than not that he’ll be used as an oversized small forward, based solely on the current frontcourt-centric construction of Sacramento's roster.