Kings season in review: Nemanja Bjelica better than expected all over

Kings season in review: Nemanja Bjelica better than expected all over

A late addition to the Kings roster for the 2018-19 season, Nemanja Bjelica proved to be a solid acquisition by general manager Vlade Divac.

While he didn’t wow anyone with his athleticism, the former EuroLeague MVP was a big reason the Kings jumped out to a fast start. He hit a wall midseason, like a few of his younger teammates, but Bjelica rebounded late and finished the year strong.

The lone veteran to see major court time throughout the season, Bjelica was an extremely valuable piece in the Kings rotation, and he likely will be one again during the 2019-20 season.


Stats (per game): 9.6 points, 1.9 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 47.9% FG, 40.1% 3PT, 23.2 min

The Kings needed a floor-spacer up front, and Bjelica proved more than adequate. The 6-foot-10 forward struggled to maintain his consistency throughout the year, but the Kings were a better team when he was on his game. And when he wasn’t, the numbers say the Kings were still a better team.

A look at the shot charts show that Bjelica is a veteran who plays to his strengths. Of his 593 field goal attempts, only 29 attempts came from outside of 10 feet and inside the 3-point line. He either shot within 10 feet (307 attempts) or from behind the arc (257).

Only 14 of Bjelica’s makes came from either corner, which would further help space the floor. But Serbian-born shooter thrived from the elbows and the top of the key. He shot a remarkable 52.2 percent from the left side behind the arc.

In addition to the deep shooting, Bjelica posted a career-best 1.9 assists per game and finished third on the team in offensive rebounding. 


Billed as a three/four when he signed, Bjelica played almost exclusively as a power forward with a sprinkling of minutes at center. He held his own for the most part, but struggled against mobile stretch fours. 

On the season, Bjelica's opponents shot 1.6 percent worse from the field against him than they did normally. He defended the perimeter well, as opponents were five percent worse from outside of 15 feet and 5.4 percent worse from behind the arc.

He held his own on the interior as well, with the players he guarded just 0.2 percent better on shots inside the arc and 0.8 percent better inside of 10 feet. These are all numbers you can live with, especially for a player who split minutes.

Per 36 minutes, Bjelica averaged 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals. He was deceptively good at on ball defending in the post, and he was rarely out of position. In addition, Bjelica’s on-court/off-court splits indicate that the Kings were a better team on both ends with him in the game.

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Former Kings coach Dave Joerger heavily relied on Bjelica at times, much to the chagrin of many inside the walls of Golden 1 Center. The numbers are on the coach’s side.

Bjelica had a career year, and while he wasn’t perfect, the Kings received plenty of value from the 30-year-old veteran. He spaced the floor and was surprisingly better at almost every aspect of the game than expected.

The big man is under contract next season with the Kings at $6.8 million, and Sacramento has a $7.1 million team option for the 2020-21 season as well.

He likely won’t start 77 games for the Kings next season as Marvin Bagley moves into a larger role, but there is always room on a roster for a pure shooting big with a high basketball IQ.

Kings focused on improving communication, chemistry on defensive end


Kings focused on improving communication, chemistry on defensive end

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings have a tall task in front of them. During a condensed training camp that has included a 17,000-mile round trip adventure to India, head coach Luke Walton and his staff have had to install a new base offense and defense while learning personnel and finding combinations that work together on the court.   

“It’s a new group, there’s new terminology to learn, there’s new play calls to learn, new concepts to learn and we get that, so it’s going to take time,” Walton explained following practice on Saturday afternoon.

The Kings have plenty of scoring options and they will continue to play an uptempo style, so the coaching staff has prioritized the defensive side of the ball. In addition to preaching concepts, Walton and his staff have placed a heavy emphasis on communication during every practice.

“Off the court, everybody is fine with each other, but on the court, everybody is starting to talk a little bit more and that communication is the big difference from we had last year,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said.

Communication was a huge issue for Sacramento last season when the team allowed 115.3 points per game and finished 20th in the league in defensive rating. To combat the issue, the coaching staff is using some old-school methods to drive the point home.

“They’re always stopping the practice when we are not communicating well and when we are not loud,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said.

The Kings made defensive upgrades at crucial positions, including at the backup point guard, backup small forward and starting center spots. The added size and length will allow them to expand their defensive playbook to include a switching defense.

“We are really big athletes and we have length, speed and we can guard -- one through four -- anyone in the league,” Bogdanovic said. “I think we are pretty talented to switch and I like it.”

In order to run a switching scheme, Walton first had to install a base defense and then expand from there. Communication and chemistry are imperative when handing opponents off from one player to the next, and the team is working on those areas every day. 

“I think it’s definitely building,” Fox said. “We have a lot of new guys this year and an entirely new coaching staff, so the chemistry is definitely building, but I don’t think it’s at a bad place right now.”

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It’s going to be a work in progress, which the team learned in the back-to-back games against the Indiana Pacers in India. Sacramento gave up a combined 262 points over the two games before heading home to face the Suns earlier this week.

“Obviously the first two games we didn’t play defense the way we wanted,” Bogdanovic added. “We showed improvement in the game against Phoenix here and that’s the way we want to play.”

Sacramento held the Suns to just 88 points on 31.4 percent shooting. The Kings also outrebounded their opponent 59-43, which was another tremendous improvement.

It should be noted that the Suns won 19 games last season. They are nowhere near the quality of opponent of a team like the Pacers, but they are still an NBA team with plenty of scoring options.

The Kings get another shot to test how far they have progressed on Monday when they travel to Utah to face a very difficult Jazz team. They aren’t expecting to be perfect, but it’s another opportunity to improve.

“Are we anywhere close to where we need to be?” Walton said. “No, we’re nowhere close. But to me, that’s to be expected. We don’t want to speed up the process and try to rush anything. We know we’re on a journey as a team.”

Following the game against the Jazz, the Kings close out their preseason schedule at Golden 1 Center with a game against Melbourne United on Wednesday. They’ll then have an additional week to further work out the kinks in preparation for the season opener against the Suns on Oct. 23.

Why De'Aaron Fox hopes Buddy Hield, Kings get contract extension done

Why De'Aaron Fox hopes Buddy Hield, Kings get contract extension done

SACRAMENTO -- The clock is ticking.

Can the Sacramento Kings and shooting guard Buddy Hield agree on a long-term contract extension before the Oct. 21 deadline, or must he play out this season and enter the summer as a restricted free agent?

Hield has been vocal about remaining in Sacramento, and he even might be willing to take less than the maximum.

On Saturday afternoon, De’Aaron Fox lent his support to his starting backcourt mate.

“Everybody deals with their own, so it’s something I worry about, but obviously, I want to continue to play with a guy like that,” Fox told NBC Sports California. “For me, just hopefully they get it done.”

Fox and Hield built chemistry on the floor last season, and are developing into a dynamic backcourt. While Fox isn’t going to jump in and help out with negotiations, he'd like to keep Hield and the rest of the young core together in Sacramento and see if they can develop into something special.

“For sure,” Fox said when asked about the core staying together. “I think we have a lot of things that we can continue to get better at, and I think once everyone is at their peak, I think we’ll be a hell of a team.”

Hield is the first of the Kings' key players to go through the negotiating process with general manager Vlade Divac, but this is only the beginning.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is in the final year of his first NBA contract. While he falls under the league’s restrictions for rookie-scale contracts and can become a restricted free agent after this season, the Kings have until June 30 to work out an extension for the 27-year-old wing.

Divac and his staff also can begin negotiations on an extension with Fox next offseason, and Marvin Bagley is eligible for a new deal during the summer of 2021.

The Kings have decisions to make on other players as well, but their core four of Hield, Fox, Bogdanovic and Bagley are all due extensions over the next 24 months. Divac will have to balance the salary cap, as well as make decisions on which players will receive the team’s two “designated player” five-year extensions.

Hield and Divac were seen joking around together after practice Friday. If a deal isn’t done soon, those smiles might not last as we draw closer to the extension deadline.