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.