The Nemanja Bjelica Connundrum
Bjelica, who started 137 games for Sacramento from 2018-20, is currently out of Luke Walton’s rotation
When former Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac signed Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica prior to the 2018-19 season, expectations were low for the veteran.
Leading into his first season with the Kings, Bjelica held career averaged of 6.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 44-percent from the field and 37-percent from three-point range.
After considering signing with the Philadelphia 76ers and even going back overseas to finish his career, Bjelica landed in Sacramento with the completion of a three-year, $20.5 million deal.
The stretch-four was a solid fit in the starting lineup, helping aid the offense with his ability to knock down triples and provide solid rebounding.
In his first season with the Kings, Bjelica posted career-high numbers across the board, scoring 9.6 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
Bjelica finished the 2018-19 season with a career-high in field goal percentage (48%) and a three-point percentage of 40-percent, good enough for 20th in the NBA.
In 2019-20, the forward would top his impressive first-season in purple and black.
For the second season in-a-row, Bjelica would post career-high’s across the board once again, holding averages of 11.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Bjelica would finish with the eighth-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA, converting almost 42-percent of his attempts during the season.
Over two seasons with the Kings–149 games and 137 starts–Bjelica posted 19 double-doubles while shooting 41-percent from downtown.
Sacramento decided to guarantee the 32-year-old’s final year of his contract for 2020-21 over the short offseason, solidifying Bjelica’s spot on the roster. While the veteran forward had his contract guaranteed, his spot in the rotation was not.
Head coach Luke Walton decided to slide former number-two overall pick and young forward Marvin Bagley III into the starting power forward spot on opening night, moving Bjelica behind the 21-year-old in the rotation.
Backing up Bagley and providing relief for starting center Richaun Holmes, Bjelica was seeing the floor for 15.1 minutes per game over his first 10 appearances–down from his 25.5 minutes per game from 2018-2020.
Bjelica has struggled in his new bench role, averaging 6.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while shooting a rough 23-percent from the three-point line.
Once the team’s 11th game of the season against the Indiana Pacers arrived on January 11th, Walton moved Bjelica out of the rotation completely, giving the forward’s minutes to forward Glenn Robinson III.
“He’s earned that confidence. He’s earned that with his play since training camp started,” Walton said of giving Robinson an extended look.
By all means, giving a young forward like Glenn Robinson III a shot at the rotation is the right move. GR3 is young, an amazing voice to have in the locker room and somebody that you would want on your team for more than one season.
Even if it was not Robinson, the point is this: Nemanja Bjelica deserves to play for a contending team.
The fact that Walton has decided to try different lineups and plug in different players into the rotation at Bjelica’s expense is telling of what is to come in the near future: a move.
Will Sacramento be able to acquire a solid haul in return for the 32-year-old Bjelica who is also on an expiring contract?
But roster spots are valuable. Seeing what you have in players that you might want around longer than one season is also valuable.
Contending teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and many more could benefit of being able to roster a floor-stretcher like Bjelica.
While the return might only be a low-end second-round pick, the Kings will take what they can get for Bjelica.
Luke Walton told the media before Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans that he was going to eventually put Bjelica back into the rotation.
This could be a tactic to showcase Bjelica before making a move in the coming weeks as the trade deadline gets closer. Sacramento is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having also lost eight of its last 10 games.
A shakeup could be coming for this roster if things do not turn around.
The first move should be Bjelica, who will not be in Sacramento come next season and should also be sought after on the trade market.