The Kings had largely struck out in Free Agency this summer until one day in late July when Nemanja Bjelica surprised everyone and decided to join the Kings on a 3 year, $20.5 million deal after first changing his mind on a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers and then changing his mind on returning to Europe. For Kings fans, there is hope that Bjelica will be able to help with the team’s dearth of depth at Small Forward, but traditionally that has not been Bjelica’s position. However in a crowded Kings frontcourt, the team may have no choice but to play him at the wing in order to give him the minutes he deserves.
Bjelica is first and foremost a shooter. According to basketball-reference, in his three years in Minnesota, 50.4% of his field goal attempts have been from beyond the three point line. He’s knocked down a respectable 37.1% of those attempts, including a career-high 41.5% last season. That’s good news for a Kings team that could use more shooting out of its frontcourt, as last season the Kings relied on guys like Zach Randolph and Skal Labissiere (and occasionally Vince Carter in small-ball lineups) to stretch the floor. Bjelica will be a lot more reliable in that regard.
Bjelica will have a lot of competition for playing time however, and the Kings might not be able to find him significant minutes as a four thanks to how much they have invested in young big men. The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley III with the 2nd pick, and they also will be bringing along Harry Giles, drafted last year. Kosta Koufos and Zach Randolph are still on the roster and should get playing time, and that’s not even including Willie Cauley-Stein (the projected starting center) and Skal Labissiere.
So for Bjelica to see the floor, he might have to be relied upon at Small Forward more than any other time in his career. Fortunately, there’s reason for optimism here. Last season, despite the Wolves using him as primarily a stretch-4, the lineup they used him in the most at 381.5 minutes (compared to the second most used lineup at 128 minutes) had him at SF next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson. That lineup (essentially the Wolves starting lineup aside from Bjelica playing for Jimmy Butler) proved fairly successful for the Wolves, outscoring opponents by 5.8 points per 100 possessions, and outrebounding them by 9.1% overall.
Bjelica himself is a fairly solid rebounder, especially if he’s playing Small Forward. The Kings as a whole were a merely average to below average rebounding team last year, ranking 14th in defensive rebounding rate and 20th in offensive rebounding rate. Having Bjelica at the three (along with the additions of guys like Bagley and Giles) should help in that regard.
Defensively, Bjelica is a solid player. The Wolves as a whole were slightly better with him on the floor on defense than they were without him. It was even more drastic in the year prior when the Wolves didn’t have Jimmy Butler, who really helped turn them around on that end of the floor. In that season, Minnesota was a whopping 7.5 points per 100 possessions better on that end, but worse offensively (which makes sense, especially when you consider he was likely replacing the offensively gifted but defensively challenged Towns in the lineup).
Bjelica might not be a player that moves and shakes the earth for the Kings, but he’s a solid contributor who should hopefully be able to help on both ends of the floor. It wouldn’t surprise me to see if he ends up being the team’s starting Small Forward come the beginning of the season, but even if he isn’t, he’ll likely see the majority of his playing time there.