Editor’s Note: Welcome to our 2020 Kings Season Preview series, where we’ll be looking ahead to what this season will bring for every member of this Sacramento roster and pondering both best and worst-case scenarios. Today, let’s continue with Nemanja Bjelica.
How did he get here?
Bjelica is entering the final season of a three-year deal worth $20.5 million with the Kings in 2018. The 32-year-old makes $7.15 million this season and could be a valuable trade chip if Sacramento isn’t in postseason contention when the trade deadline nears.
Bjelica had his best NBA season last year. He put up career-highs in minutes (27.9), points (11.5) and rebounds (6.4). He gives head coach Luke Walton the option of going small, and his 3-point shooting abilities allow the offense to space the floor for point guard De’Aaron Fox.
What is his best-case scenario for 2020-21?
The 6’10, 234-pound Bjelica continues to play significant minutes for the Kings. Walton is on record saying that he wants his squad to play faster this season and push the pace. Bjelica might not be the quickest power forward in the league, but he is very sound positionally.
With Sacramento waiving big man Frank Kaminsky, the team needs Bjelica’s outside shooting ability, which rates highly among NBA 4s. He connected on 41.9 percent of his attempts from the beyond the arc last season (another career-high mark), and if the Kings want to make some noise, they will need him to hit at a similar rate.
The underlying data shows how much of a difference Bjelica made for the team during the 2019-20 campaign. Sacramento’s net rating was 2.6 points better per 100 possessions with the 32-year-old on the court, per NBA.com. The Kings also had a better rebounding percentage, effective field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage with Bjelica in the game.
If Bjelica can continue to be a solid contributor on the offensive end who holds his own defensively, it will be a big win for the team.
What is his worst-case scenario?
Bjelica struggles in Walton’s new fast-paced offense, and his trade value takes a hit. General manager Monte McNair has made it no secret that he values financial flexibility, and with Bjelica on an expiring deal, it’s tough to see how the team brings his back.
If Bjelica’s shooting falls off a cliff and he’s not the reliable stretch 4 that he has been the last two seasons, it will hinder McNair’s efforts to bring back an attractive asset for him. He’s never been a great rebounder, but if his totals fall again, it may scare some contending teams away.
All-in-all, Bjelica is a low-risk option for the franchise. He is the definition of a professional who brings it every night. But with the Kings getting younger, this will likely be his final season in Sacramento.