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 offseason outlook: Who will back up De'Aaron Fox at point guard?


Kings offseason outlook: Who will back up De'Aaron Fox at point guard?

SACRAMENTO -- De’Aaron Fox, and?

What is the Kings' plan for the reserve point guard position this season? Last year, it was a point of contention between head coach Dave Joerger and the front office.

Joerger wanted a true veteran point guard that could handle the offense when Fox went to the bench. The team acquired Alec Burks at the deadline, but he didn’t really work out for the team in his brief opportunity.

After averaging 31.4 minutes per game last season, Fox is expected to play even more next season. What does that leave for a backup point guard?

Not much. Whoever takes the job is going to have to make an impact with very little opportunity.

The Kings have three options in house and added another two during the draft, but there still isn’t a true floor general on the roster outside of Fox.

According to a league source, the team is willing to walk into the season with the group they had last year, but they’ll look at other options during the first few days of free agency before making a final decision.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is a playmaker, but he’s more of a shooting guard or small forward than a natural point guard. He’ll eat minutes at the position, but the team would be better with him playing on the wing.

Yogi Ferrell is an option as well and he’s affordable. The team has a $3.2 million option on the 26-year-old, which they have until July 4 to exercise. The fourth-year guard is more of an undersized two than a point, which was one of Joerger’s concerns last season. He can be a defensive liability and the team needs an offensive hub to run the ball through when he’s on the floor.

Frank Mason is in a similar boat. While more of a point, he is undersized and struggled to make an impact when given a shot last year. After lighting it up from long range in college and putting up solid numbers during his rookie campaign, Mason struggled mightily from deep last season. Sacramento has until Oct. 15 to guarantee Mason’s contract for the upcoming season. He’s only due $1.6 million, so he’s an affordable option. He’ll likely get a shot to run the team in summer league and prove that he’s ready to contribute.

Vlade Divac and his team added a pair of guards in the second round, but they are inexperienced and neither is a perfect fit.

Justin James is a 6-foot-7 combo guard who ran the show at Wyoming. Kyle Guy is a big-time shooter, but not much of a distributor. They both were second-round selections, which means that they are on budget deals that likely are non-guaranteed this season. The team could use one or both of their two-way contracts on the pair and bounce them back and forth between their G-League affiliate in Stockton. They also could lock them down with three-year contracts with team options and see how they develop.

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None of these options is a perfect solution. Then again, the combination of three or four of these players might work.

If Divac doesn’t fall in love with someone new in the opening days of free agency, he might have to rely on a back-up point guard by committee approach and reassess his options next summer if it doesn’t work out.

There is talent at the position, but new head coach Luke Walton is going to need someone to step up and earn the minutes quickly or Fox will have to play even more than expected.

NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future


NBA free agency: Kosta Koufos reflects on Kings tenure, his future

A pro’s pro.

After four seasons in Sacramento, center Kosta Koufos is about to enter NBA free agency for the first time in a while.

The veteran center took a back seat to the Kings’ youth movement over the last two seasons, but at 30 years old, he still has plenty to give, whether it’s in Sacramento or somewhere else.

“I’ve been in the league for 11 years. I’ve started a numerous amount of games, and when given time, I can put up numbers,” Koufos told NBC Sports California on The Kings Insider Podcast.

Sacramento undertook a major facelift during Koufos’ time with the team. He had to adapt, and more that anything else, he had to accept a role as the team started from scratch.

From a starter on a 57-win Denver Nuggets team to a role player with the Kings, Koufos has done it all. He takes everything in stride and never has complained, be it to the media or the front office.

“From my perspective, knowing your role, knowing your situation and maximizing your role, whatever time is given to you,” Koufos said. “Whether it’s playing well on the defensive end or getting guys open with screens or scoring when the opportunity is there, it’s just being the best player you can be in whatever time is given to you.”

With the Kings continuing their youth movement, minutes weren’t easy to come by this past season for the 7-footer out of Ohio State. But when he didn’t see the floor or he played less than 15 minutes, Koufos would hit the practice-facility floor and the weight room after games to stay in shape.

“Have your mindset that you’re going to play 25 minutes a game, even if you’re not, just to be ready and keep your body ready,” Koufos said of his approach to this last season. “If you don’t play, then after the game you get your conditioning in, get your lifting in, get your shots up so you can stay sharp for the next opportune moment.”

For the first time in eight seasons, Koufos failed to register a positive in the offensive/defensive rating, but it had nothing to do with his effort. He played just 502 minutes with the Kings and played with countless teammates on the second unit. It’s hard to find a rhythm as a player when you’re playing half the games.

Circumstances have changed almost every year in Sacramento, but Koufos has rolled with the punches and been a team player every step of the way. While he wants to play, he also knows the NBA business, and the veteran center hasn’t ruled out a return to the Kings.

“You keep your options open no matter what, I believe in that,” Koufos said.

The Kings are looking for a major piece to drop into the center of their lineup, and Koufos will have to use a wait-and-see approach. It’s very possible that there is a club on the open market looking for a veteran big who understands his role and is willing to do all of the dirty work.

Although he didn’t get the best opportunity over the last year or two with the Kings, he enjoyed the fan base and would recommend the city to potential free agents.

“Honestly, there are a lot of friendly people in Sacramento,” Koufos said. “It’s more of a Midwest vibe, in California, which I like. The city is growing, the real estate market is booming, obviously, and I had a great time.”

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings haven’t closed the door on a reunion with the team’s longest-tenured player. The Kings hope to improve their frontline in free agency, but that doesn’t exclude a return by Koufos.

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Both sides will let the market dictate the next course of action. If they meet back up after the initial burrage of signings, and a deal make sense for both the team and the player, they will talk.

If not, Koufos should be remembered in Sacramento as the consummate professional who brought his hard hat to work every day and helped bring along the next generation of Kings players.