With the season officially behind us, this is about the time we would normally begin looking forward to the draft. Actually, we normally would have been looking forward to the draft starting around February. But with the Sacramento Kings lacking a first round pick this year, we can spend a little more time than normal reflecting on the past season. We’re going to do this by grading every player on the roster, one at a time. The Sactown Royalty staff will provide their grades and thoughts, and we’ll have a poll and can discuss and debate.
Today we’re discussing Nemanja Bjelica. He finished the season averaging 9.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.
Bjelilca had an up and down year. He had stretches where it seemed like he could miss, and stretches where he couldn’t stop pump faking and passing out of open looks. I grew frustrated with Bjelly as the season went on, especially with his defense. But overall Bjelly performed well. A good value to his contract, a 40% three point shooter who opened up the floor, and a guy who seemed unbothered when he spent long spells on the bench. The shooting threat he provided the Kings this season is really what bumped him into a B for my grade.
Nemanja Bjelica was being regarded as one of the best signings of the summer and for good reason. He was averaging 15 points a game, 6.5 rebounds and shooting 58 percent from the field in October and continued to provide great value throughout November and December, albeit he had some down games here and there. Arguably, the Kings don’t win as much games early on without Bjelica’s impact, especially offensively.
Then in early 2019, he hit a massive roadblock where anytime he was on the floor, things wouldn’t go his way. He was missing shots he normally made, made poor decisions, and became a liability on defense and such.
Bjelica serpentined through on and off games for the rest of the season but also provided big rebounding games a few times and regained solid defense occasionally. His best strength is being a stretch-four but for next season, having his sniper shot would be best fitted coming off the bench when the team needs some scoring. The Kings still need a stronger big to be a starter at the four or five spot.
He was obliterating expectations out of the gate, but he fell back to earth in a big way. Went from being TheManya to being TheMehnya. A fair-value contract as a bench stretch-four, but you sort of hope that he is no better than fourth on the bigs depth chart this next season, behind Bagley, a free agent that can supply some interior defense, and Giles. As an 8th or 9th man he could be a great value. As your first big off the bench he’ll win some and lose some. As a starter you’re not a playoff team, in my opinion.
Belly started the season at an A, and ended at a C. I’ll split the difference for the season on the whole. He hit over 50% of his shots from three over his first 20 games, just 33% over his last 20 games, and 38% in the middle. Perimeter shooting is definitely his primary skill, but his conversion rate on twos was nice as well. He passed, defended, and rebounded at an acceptable level for low end starter. He also led the team in net rating by a mile.
He didn’t do it with any flash — aside from a poster dunk on Jaren Jackson Jr. that I was lucky enough to see in person. That’s his deal. He’s got sound fundamentals, but watching him rarely excites you. He’s probably better suited as a rotation guy, but he gave a crucial stretch element to a team that desperately needed one. As crazy as it may seem, there’s just no way the Kings would have made the leap they did without Professor Big Shots.
I struggled with this one. I went in thinking ‘B+’ before taking another look at how his production tailed off during the second half of the season (.338 from 3 after the All-Star break) and settled with a B.
Nemanja Bjelica played an incredibly important role for the Kings this season. He was their most impactful floor spacer. Dave Joerger realized this, and above all else, that’s what kept him in the starting lineup over Marvin Bagley. Bjelica allowed Fox to do his job better. Bjelica gave every other frontcourt player enough room to operate in the paint, and I hope the Kings front office paid attention to the importance of shooting from that position.
I don’t think Bjelica is the right long-term answer to the frontcourt shooter problem. He’s only getting older. He can’t stay in front of other perimeter forwards around the league, and he isn’t big enough to guard centers. You can’t hide him on defense.
But for the 2018-19 season, he was a stellar fit for this team offensively. The Kings’ offensive rating was +5.7 with him on the court. Nobody on the roster had a more positive impact on the Kings’ offensive rating. This is just one of many areas where the Kings were statistically better with Bjelica on the court than they were with him off it, but Cleaning The Glass is having some technical issues as of this writing so I can’t pull them up for reference.
Bjelica was good, but I think the positive impact he had on the Kings this season had more to do with the type of player he is vs. Bjelica specifically. Again, I hope the Kings learned how important it’ll be to put a shooter in the frontcourt next to Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox next season so their most important young pieces have enough space to do what they do best.
How would you grade Nemanja Bjelica’s season?
This poll is closed