Perhaps the most immediately impactful move of Sacramento’s offseason came on July 20th, 2018, when the Sacramento Kings had signed Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year deal worth $20.5 million. Bjelica had originally agreed to a one-year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, but never officially inked the paper due to intentions to play in Europe.
While we get lost in the hype surrounding youngsters like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley and company, we should also note the importance of Bjelica to this “young superteam”.
Let’s look at some of Bjelica’s stats throughout his career:
Bjelica’s Career Stats
|15-16 with MIN||17.9||47%||38%||73%||3.5||1.4||0.4||0.4||5.1|
|16-17 with MIN||18.3||42%||31%||74%||3.8||1.2||0.3||0.6||6.2|
|17-18 with MIN||20.5||46%||42%||80%||4.1||1.3||0.2||0.7||6.8|
|18-19 with SAC||26.1||52%||51%||68%||5.7||2.4||0.8||1.4||12.2|
There’s a noticeable trend with Bjelica: the more he plays, the more he contributes. That’s in large part due to the fact the Kings need him and use him more than the Minnesota Timberwolves have. Yes, it has been only 14 games but it’s great to see him improving in almost every single category (aside from free throws, which have been a team-wide problem).
Bjelica’s usage rate of 17.6% is a career-high as the Kings are letting him do more than simply shoot spot-up threes. He’s handling the ball, he’s driving and he’s making smart passes too.
Now let’s take a look at Bjelica’s TPA (Total Points Added) so far:
After their 104-99 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, the Sacramento Kings are now 8-6. Here's how all #SacramentoProud players have fared in TPA during the 2018-19 season: pic.twitter.com/TYbsgmHuel— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) November 13, 2018
NBA Math calculates TPA based on a player’s effectiveness both offensively and defensively per possession, while accounting for the amount of minutes they played. You can read more about it here, if you’d like.
Look how Bjelica just jumps out to you, all the way up there by himself. Bjelica has added about 16+ points on offense and has saved around the same amount of points on defense. His ability to hold his own on defense and stretch the floor on the other end has been vital to this team. Bjelica’s three point percentage of 51% is third in the entire league this season, and while that number will likely come back down to earth, he should still remain an efficient scorer.
Here’s a perfect example of Bjelica’s impact on both ends of the court:
Bjelica accomplishing a lot in this sequence:— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) November 10, 2018
✅ Blocked Towns
✅ Ran the break
✅ Fed Willie for a dunk pic.twitter.com/Eez8y4yQiP
He timed his block on KAT perfectly, grabbed the rebound, brought the ball up and recognized Willie coming down the middle to get an easy assist.
His ability to heat up from another continent has also been fun to watch:
"They're dancing in the streets in Belgrade!!!" pic.twitter.com/PWt8VKz9Nl— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) November 10, 2018
Bjelica has shown the ability to go on mini-runs by himself, even after bad starts. Most recently, Bjelica scored all 11 of his points against San Antonio in the second half alone. He hit two threes, got a putback off his own miss, then did this at the right time:
Bjelica met la totalité de ses 11 points en MT2.— Sacto Kings FR [Flo] (@SactoKingsFR) November 13, 2018
3/3 de loin dont cette bombe qui tue.
Son surnom ? Professor Big Shots.pic.twitter.com/OrkmHlXIp0
Professor Big Shots is correct.
It’s no coincidence that when the Kings have won, Bjelica has been a big part of it. Take a look at Bjelica’s numbers through all eight wins:
Bjelica’s # in Wins (14 games)
Look at how much the numbers drop off in losses:
Bjelica’s # in Losses
It’s clearly evident that when he performs at a high level, the Kings tend to win their games.
During the Kings five game winning streak, Bjelica was getting a lot of national media recognition as being one of the best free agent signings of the offseason, and deservedly so. Every team needs the presence of veterans to come in and perform on a nightly (or afternoon) basis and the Kings have been getting that from Bjelica.