Break glass in case of emergency.
Mired in a nine-game losing streak and watching the game slip away in Detroit, Kings coach Luke Walton looked over at his bench and called on seldom-used Nemanja Bjelica to give his team a lift.
Bjelica, who started 137 games over the last two seasons for Sacramento, hadn’t played in three games as a healthy scratch. Coming into Friday night, he had seen action in just 15 games this season as the focus has shifted to Marvin Bagley III and Harrison Barnes at power forward.
The veteran looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, and Walton allowed him to finish out the fourth quarter, as the Kings battled back for the 110-107 win.
“He stays ready, that’s the biggest thing,” Bagley said. “No matter what happens, how many games he didn’t play in or minutes he didn’t play, he came in and did what he had to do to help us win or help us win. That’s all you can ask for.”
Bjelica played at Bagley’s expense, but when you’ve lost as many games as the Kings had, you throw all of that out the window. Bagley was excited to break the losing streak like everyone else, even if he had to watch from the sidelines down the stretch.
Walton’s squad struggled with plenty of issues over their latest downturn, but one of the main ingredients that were missing was just basic basketball IQ. It’s something that both De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes spoke on following the team’s loss to the Knicks on Thursday.
While Bjelica isn’t the most athletic player on the roster, he has played the game professionally since he was extremely young in Europe. He even won a EuroLeague MVP before coming to the NBA.
“Bjeli is the ultimate professional, the ultimate teammate,” Richaun Holmes said. “He’s always engaged, always ready when his name is called and he’s a great basketball player, a high IQ player. So he comes in the game, he knows where we need him, he knows what we need him to do and he’s looking to go out there and do his job.”
Bjelica is a player that understands the game at a high level and at 32-years-old, he still has some basketball left in him.
He played a total of 12 minutes and six seconds in the game, with all but six seconds coming in the final period. He shot 3-of-4 from the field to finish with eight points, and he chipped in three assists, four rebounds and a steal.
“I can’t say enough about how professional he is and how much of a good teammate he is,” Holmes added. “To come in cold in the fourth and make winning plays for us, that just speaks to the type of teammate he is.”
In a game where the Kings won by just three points, Bjelica ran a plus-eight on the night. He made solid defensive plays, grabbed timely rebounds and despite sitting out half of the games this season for Sacramento, the team ran the offense through him down the stretch.
“I was really pleased with Bjeli’s ability to stay ready and step in like that and help us out on a night we really needed it,” Walton said.
Bjelica is in the final year of his contract with the Kings and there is a possibility that he won’t finish out the season in Sacramento. There are teams around the league that can use a veteran big that can knock down a 3-point shot and make the right plays and Bjelica’s name has already come up in trade rumors.
For now, Bjelica is still a King and he once again proved his value in the team’s win over the Pistons.