Nemanja Bjelica

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

Ever since the Kings signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract in the 2018 offseason, it quietly has been a great deal for Sacramento. 

Bjelica averaged career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (5.8) for the Kings last season, and he has been ever better in Year 2 with the Kings. 

The 31-year-old is averaging 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over 54 games this season. He also is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range, both career-bests. 

For his ability to give the Kings quality minutes at center, Bjelica landed on Zach Lowe of ESPN's latest "Ten things I like and don't like." 

"The Kings needed something to fill the void after injuries to Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes -- who had been killing it as their starter -- and whatever the hell happened with Dewayne Dedmon," Lowe wrote. "Credit Bjelica for stepping up.

Lowe notes that per Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have outscored opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Bjelica as a small-ball center. 

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has only played 13 games this season and isn't sure if he will suit up again this year after aggravating his sprained left foot

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes 'definitely ready to get back' after setback]

The Kings traded Dedmon back to the Atlanta Hawks months after signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason. 

In what feels like yet another lost season in Sacramento, Bjelica has been a bright spot the Kings can count on.

Richaun Holmes 'definitely ready' to return, boost Kings on both ends

Richaun Holmes 'definitely ready' to return, boost Kings on both ends

Various Kings players have missed over 100 games with injuries this season, and there are still 28 games remaining.

Richaun Holmes is one of those players who is currently spending All-Star weekend in Chicago, his hometown and the center of the NBA world the next few days. 

During Friday's Habershow, Holmes updated his condition to NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh.

“I feel pretty good, I feel pretty good,” Holmes said. “I’m definitely ready to get back out there. I haven’t missed this many games since I don’t know when. I want to play so bad, I want to play so bad. It looks fun out there”

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice.

The big man underwent PRP treatment on his ailing shoulder earlier in the week and will be re-evaluated in two-to-three weeks. Surgery has not been ruled out, but Holmes continues to put in the work in hopes of avoiding it.

Since Holmes last played, the Kings are showing signs of life. They are 6-4 over their last 10 games heading into the break and point guard De'Aaron Fox is leading the way. 

“His pace is amazing, it’s like a match made in heaven,” Holmes said of Fox. “He’s able to throw the lob, he breaks down the defense so well, like getting to the teeth and they have to collapse on him and then I’m right there at the rim.”

The two haven’t had much time on the floor together. Holmes took over the starting center job from Dewayne Dedmon after four games, but five games later, Fox rolled his ankle in practice and missed a total of 18 games.

Holmes and Fox have only started 13 games together, but Fox’s speed and Homes’ ability to finish in the lane is an intriguing two-man game if both players are healthy at the same time. The 26-year-old looks like a perfect fit in the Kings' lineup, especially when surrounded by shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica. 

The Kings haven't used Holmes as a 3-point shooter at all this season, even though he shot 35.1 percent on a career-high 77 attempts in the 2016-17 season. 

“My role has changed,” Holmes said. “My ability to roll and space the floor, that’s something they wanted me to do. It’s something that was my niche in the NBA, and something that I can take hold to and make sure I can get on the floor. It’s something I kinda embraced.”

Holmes is shooting a career-best 66 percent from the field this season. He led the NBA in field-goal percentage earlier this season, and he still ranks third overall entering the break.

His path into the league wasn’t easy. The 2015 second-round pick has tirelessly worked to carve out an NBA role. Holmes plays to his strengths and gives maximum effort on both ends of the court.

All that hard work has given Holmes a unique perspective on the league. 

“I just think for me, it’s remembering the blessing of even being able to play in the NBA,” Holmes said. “There’s guys who would trade shoes with you whether you’re sitting on the bench not playing or you’re starting. I think just remembering the blessing in itself that you made it to the NBA and now you have to do what you can to stay in the NBA."

“If that means right now you’re not playing, you’ve got to cheer your guys on and make sure they’re ready in practice,” Holmes added. “Just never taking that for granted, never getting down on yourself, because you’re doing something that so many people want to do and something you dreamed of your whole life.”

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes recounts draft night, memorable call]

Holmes was having a breakout season before tearing his labrum. He's averaging a career-high 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in his fifth season.

There is a chance he returns to the court in a few weeks, which would be music to the Kings’ ears. They miss his tenacity on defense and how he keeps things simple on offense.

Nemanja Bjelica helps Kings break Heat's zone, pick up impressive win

Nemanja Bjelica helps Kings break Heat's zone, pick up impressive win

SACRAMENTO -- The Miami Heat love to run a zone defense, which the Kings learned the hard way last month when they fell in overtime at AmericaAirlines Arena. They got a chance for a little revenge on Friday as a depleted Heat team rolled into Golden 1 Center.

The Kings were shorthanded as well due to a grouping of injuries to their post players, as well as the trade that sent Dewayne Dedmon to the Hawks. With only two bigs to work with, coach Luke Walton turned to Nemanja Bjelica to play major minutes at the five.

An experienced European player that once won a EuroLeague MVP, Bjelica is used to seeing zone defenses. He had no problem picking apart the Heat’s zone from the high post, helping the Kings come away with a 105-97 victory. Bjelica finished with a career-high tying eight assists in 36 minutes of action.

“If you can have a big that can play in the middle of a zone or the top of a zone offensively, it’s great,” guard De’Aaron Fox said. “He can see over the zone, he can make the passes, he can also score, so he does a lot for us.”

At 6-foot-11, Bjelica camped at the free throw line. He hit Kent Bazemore on back cuts and Bogdan Bogdanovic for angle threes. The ball moved freely and the Kings finished the night with 29 assists as a team.

“Coach wanted me to playmake, especially when they play zone,” Bjelica said. “Just get to the high post to see if someone will cut or whoever’s open. We did really good.”

Bogdanovic busted out early, scoring 17 of his team-high 23 points in the first half. Buddy Hield found similar success, scoring 21 on 5-of-13 from long range. 

“I felt like we moved the ball well, especially against the zone,” Bogdanovic said. “Whenever we had a nice set in the halfcourt and we moved the ball well, it was kind of open for everyone and we were just ready and knocked down some shots.”

As a team, Sacramento hit 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) from behind the arc, just two off of their franchise record that they set last week. Five of those came from Bjelica, who added 15 points and six rebounds to his quality passing numbers.

[RELATED: Holmes' return to lineup a mystery]

Sacramento doesn’t have a moment to celebrate their victory. They host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday for a rare home-and-home back-to-back.

The Kings have now won five of their last seven games and they are getting close to a fleet of reinforcements returning to action. Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley, Jabari Parker and Alex Len, should all be ready coming out of the All-Star break at the latest.