Nemanja Bjelica’s first season under Zeljko Obradovic’s tutelage was a very promising one. The six-foot-10 combo forward has always been a very interesting player but only now playing for the legend Bjelica has managed to translate all his versatility into difference-making production. Fenerbahçe was almost 19 points per 100 possessions better with him than without him in the lineup in the Euroleague. It allowed on average 102.8 points per 100 possessions in the Turkish league but only 97.7 with him on the floor, the best defensive rating among power forwards in the league.
Bjelica can still be frustrating, to the point where Obradovic actually kicked him out of a game last season. But it is evident he took a step forward on that end in comparison to his days at Laboral Kutxa Baskonia. Fenerbahçe switched pretty much every single pick-and-roll late in the season and Bjelica’s ability to guard perimeter players was part of the reason why they explored that strategy so aggressively. He is sloppy with his stance and doesn’t have the type of lateral quickness to keep small, quick attacking guards in front of him but showed himself consistently capable of staying in the play and challenging really well at the rim due to his mobility and length. His block-rate spiked from 1.5% in his last season in Spain to 2.43% in his first one in Turkey.
Playing alongside below average defensive rebounders like Luka Zoric and Oguz Savas, Bjelica did excellent work on the boards. He ranked third in the Turkish league in defensive rebounding rate and fifth in the Euroleague among power forwards. Bjelica is an elite athlete for that position in the European game, which provides him an edge reacting faster and jumping higher than the average competition.
His offensive skill-set is the most intriguing aspect of his game, though. Bjelica used to run point for Red Star Belgrade at times and possesses good ball skills and passing instincts. When an opponent tries matching up his athleticism by going small and defending him with a perimeter player, his high vantage point helps him see over smaller defenders. He can run a pick-and-roll in a pinch, which provides incredible flexibility to Fenerbahçe’s offense. 49 of his 53 assists in 605 Euroleague minutes led to scores at the rim or from three-point range. He ranked 40th in the Turkish league in assists; and that’s among all players, not just position peers.
Bjelica can’t attack the corner off the bounce with much speed but is quite fast on straight line drives, uses his 225-pound frame to protect the ball well (he posted an average turnover rate) and can play above the rim. However, he finished his 69 attempts at the basket in the Euroleague at an unimpressive 65.2% clip. Bjelica proved himself a quality threat on catch-and-shoots last season, developing more fluidity and speed on his release. He hit 40.7% of his 83 three-point attempts in 61 total games. The passing and spot-up shooting he brings to the table were reflected on Fenerbahçe scoring on average 119.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Because he does a lot of his work from the perimeter, Bjelica is not much of a factor on the glass, though he is a threat when he happens to be on the interior as he is capable of rebounding outside of his area due to length and activity. But the most glaring hole on his offensive game is that remains a lousy pull-up shooter, missing 24 of his 32 two-pooint jump-shots in the Euroleague.
Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at in-the-game.org and basketball.realgm.com.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.