Nemanja Bjelica is cold-blooded. The day after lighting up Spain with 24 points and 10 rebounds in Serbia's first game of EuroBasket 2015 group play, he struggled to find a groove against Germany -- until the game was on the line, that is. With 3.7 seconds left and the score knotted at 66, Bjelica grabbed the inbound pass on the right wing and, without hesitation, drove to the hoop and flipped up a running floater. It dropped through the net with 0.9 seconds to play. Game over.
After only two games, the 27-year-old Serbian is making waves at EuroBasket. Soon enough, he'll have his chance to do so in the NBA, too. Bjelica was drafted by the Washington Wizards with the 35th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and then dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Five years later, he's finally making his way to the NBA.
The Timberwolves, already loaded with young talent, have another possible star on their hands. Minnesota's young core led by 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and 2015 No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns has fans salivating, and adding Bjelica should only add to the excitement. With a polished game after years of professional basketball in Europe, Bjelica -- the reining Euroleague MVP -- is ready to make an impact in the league right away.
Good luck stopping him
In Serbia's opener against loaded Spain, Bjelica put on a clinic, showing everything a stretch 4 is capable of doing. He dropped 24 points and 10 rebounds in a Serbia victory, dominating a much-hyped game against Chicago's Nikola Mirotic. In the first half, he drove to the basket almost at will. At 6'10, he's quick and has a nose for the hole. Plus, he can finish: Bjelica was 8-of-16 from the field against Spain.
He creates his own shot, but he also sees the court well. Bjelica's four assists don't look gaudy on the stat sheet, but his court vision is fantastic. He doesn't force shots but lets the game come to him instead.
Plus, he can hit step-back threes.
After driving to the hoop throughout the first half against Spain, he hit three shots from behind the arc in the second frame. He was 3-of-7 from deep on Saturday and shot 37.4 percent from long range in 2015 Euroleague.
Mirotic had a great rookie season with the Bulls last year, but Bjelica was having his way with him. In Mirotic's defense, it's not easy to guard a fast power forward that can shoot from deep.
Big Shot Bjelica
Bjelica has a nose not only for the hoop, but for big moments too. Not only did he hit the game-winner against Germany, he also gave Serbia buckets at crucial moments against Spain. The step-back three came as Serbia was beginning to take control in the third quarter. It was a dagger.
Then, he hit two more in the fourth quarter. After trailing by double digits, Spain was within three with under four to play. Bjelica ended that with a deep three.
Then, with 1:30 to play, Spain had inched back again and was only down by one. Bjelica came off a screen on the left, curled into a three and sank it again.
Here's full highlights from the Spain game:
Bjelica isn't afraid of taking the big shot. He appears mentally ready for the NBA game.
Transitioning to the NBA
Bjelica deserves the praise for his EuroBasket performance thus far, but he's going to be facing much tougher defenses in the U.S. Sure, he is playing against guys like Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki, but those aren't shut-down players.
Nevertheless, Bjelica should find ways to score. Minnesota will be able to use him as a Stretch 4, though he could also play some on the wing. It's going to be in the Timberwolves' best interest to run at every opportunity with a roster that includes Ricky Rubio and Wiggins. If they do, Bjelica will fit nicely. He should pair well with Wiggins and Towns, giving Minnesota an incredibly versatile and athletic frontcourt.
He's going to be fighting for minutes with Kevin Garnett, Adreian Payne and Anthony Bennett, but the opportunity is still there. Garnett is going to be a feel-good story in Minnesota, but age and health will limit his minutes. Bjelica's other two challengers, Payne and Bennett, have both struggled to develop. At 27, Bjelica's game is ready. He is quicker and can shoot better than both Payne and Bennett.
Nemanja can switch on pick-and-rolls due to his ability to guard perimeter players. He is sometimes sloppy with his stance and doesn't have the type of lateral quickness to keep small, quick attacking guards in front of him but shows himself consistently capable of staying in the play and challenging really well at the rim due to his mobility and length. Nemanja does excellent work on the boards, and is an elite athlete for his position in the European game, which provides him an edge reacting faster and jumping higher than the average competition.
Minnesota should be excited about a possible breakout season from Wiggins and the arrival of Towns, but don't forget about Bjelica. The Serbian is a stud and will help make the Timberwolves relevant in the West.
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