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Roster Review | Nemanja Bjelica

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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PF | 6-10, 240 LBS

2015-16 season: 60 games, 0 starts, 5.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 46.8 FG%, 38.4 3P%, 72.7 FT%

When Nemanja Bjelica came over from Serbia this offseason after being drafted in 2010, the expectations were high. Bjelica was the 2015 Euroleague MVP. We saw him hit shots all summer for Serbia on way to being nicknamed Professor Big Shots. 

With a nickname like that, expectations are already very high. 

We saw a little bit of everything with Bjelica in his rookie season. Sure, he’s 27 and has more professional basketball experience than a rookie like Tyus Jones, but by watching games, it was clear Bjelica was a rookie. Fouls, not rotating on defense and being passive on offense.

And that’s all fine. It would have been weird if he just jumped in and dominated.

Bjelica had an up-and-down season. He started hot. Hurt his knee. Ended up in Sam Mitchell’s doghouse. Suffered a knee injury over the All-Star break. Came back and killed it.

In 11 November games, Bjelica averaged 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from the 3-point line. Good, right?

Then in December he averaged 2.1 points, following by 4.4 in January, 3.3 in February and 4.7 in March.

Well, that’s not so good.

Some of that had to do with Bjelica just not playing well. Some of it also had to do with inconsistent minutes. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you don’t know how long you have to groove into that said rhythm.

In April, though, Bjelica was all rhythm and no blues. In seven games (small sample size, whatever) he was playing 24.8 minutes per game while averaging 10 points, six rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He shot a scorching 64.1 percent from the field, 63.2 percent from the 3-point line and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line. No, those percentages (besides the free throws) aren’t sustainable. But at least we know that he’s capable of doing those things.

Bjelica told us at the end of the season how important it was to go into the offseason with confidence – to know he belongs in this league. He does. He’ll just need to be more consistent during the 2016-17 season.

Top Three Games Of The Season

3.) April 7, 2016 at Sacramento Kings

Bjelica performed well in this late-season win over the Kings in Sacramento. No, DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play. No, Rajon Rondo didn’t play. Yes, the Kings might have been worried about keeping a certain draft pick. But we won’t get into that. 

He led the second unit with 18 points in less than 26 minutes. He shot 6-for-7 from the field, 4-for-5 from the 3-point line and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. He also added four rebounds, two assists and a block. 

2.) April 1, 2016 at Utah Jazz

The Wolves lost 98-85 in Utah and it was an overall pretty forgettable night for the Wolves, that is if you ignore Bjelica’s performance off the bench. Bjelica finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 35 minutes. He shot 6-for-8 from the field and 3-for-4 from deep.

1.) Nov. 7, 2015 at Chicago Bulls

Bjelica was great in this 102-93 upset win over the Bulls in Chicago. Then again, maybe it wasn’t an upset considering how the season ended for both teams.

Regardless, Bjelica didn’t start, but ended up playing 40 minutes off the bench and finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal. He shot 5-for-9 from the field, 2-for-6 from the 3-point line (both coming in the second quarter) and 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. It was one of his two 10-point, 10-rebound, five-assist games of his career.

For whatever reason, Bjelica’s best games this season came on the road.

Top Offseason Objectives 

Bjelica’s going to have to get stronger and he said as much late in the season. In the Euroleague, he got by with his craftiness and basketball IQ. That only gets him so far in the NBA where players move like planes instead of trains.

Getting stronger won’t help his athleticism, but it will help going against bigger and stronger power forwards and centers.

It sounds like Bjelica will play for the Serbian national team this summer, as he should. He’s still a very big deal back home. Serbia is fighting to qualify for the final three spots in the Rio Olympics. Serbia will have to beat out Angola, Puerto Rico, Japan, Latvia and Czech Republic for a spot.

We’ll all be watching and hoping the legend of Professor Big Shots continues, but it will also be crucial that Bjelica comes into 2016 training camp healthy and somewhat well rested. It will be no fun starting his second season hurt while a new head coach analyzes the team. 

Role for 2016-17? 

This all really depends on Kevin Garnett’s future and who the team signs in free agency, but Bjelica should aim to be the guy he was in April – coming off the bench as a stretch forward who can score in a hurry while also creating offense for others.

They Said It…

“It was a great experience. At the end of the day I’m very happy to be here because I belong in this league. I want to compete with the best players. Of course I had some ups and downs, but this is normal and I’m just happy that because of myself I finished the season in a good way and that’s it.” – Nemanja Bjelica on his up-and-down rookie season.

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