By: Jonah Sprinkel
Hop into my DeLorean real quick and let's travel back to July 14, 2015. We are now nearly two years in the past. In front of us is the current Euroleague MVP, Nemanja Bjelica signing a three year, 11.7 million dollar deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
At the time Timberwolves fan were hopeful, and confident, that Bjelica could come in and be a high quality rotational player. If everything went perfectly he could become a quality starter. The sad reality is that neither of these things have come anywhere close to fruition.
This season Bjelica has logged the most appearances and second largest minutes total of Timberwolves bench players. The amount of responsibility he is entrusted with has not been met with positive results. In fact, this year has been a regression for the Serbian.
In 55 games this year, Bjelica is averaging 5.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 50.4. Compared to last year, Bjelica's is averaging nearly identical minutes per game, 17.2 this year, 17.9 last year. His points per game are up by 0.7. But that's the only good thing you'll find here. His rebounding and assist averages are down, though with such small numbers this matters very little.
Shooting has been the biggest regression. Last year, Bjelica attempted 28.2 percent of his shots within three feet of the rim, he connected on 72.7 percent of these attempts. This year is a different story. 23.9 percent of Bjelica's shots come from the same area while his shooting percent is all the way down to 61.2. He's shooting fewer and making fewer of the most effective shot on the floor.
Continuing down this shooting road we find a weird trend. All of Bjelica's shooting percentages from 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet, and 16 feet out to the three point line are up dramatically this year. And when I say dramatically, I mean dramatically.
3 - 10 feet 34.4% 49.0%
10 - 16 feet 33.3% 37.5%
16 - <3 22.2% 44.4%
The shooting numbers for 2016-17 are exactly what you would like to see out of a stretch four. The real problem lies outside the arc. While the percentage of three pointers taken has barely moved, 53.2 percent last year, 52.9 percent this year, Bjelica's three point percentage is down from 38.4 percent to 31.1 percent, a substantial regression.
To sum everything up his effective field goal percent is down nearly seven percent from last year, 57.0 to 50.4.
Timberwolves fans everywhere seem to know that the problem lies with Bjelica's confidence. I too buy into this idea. A common theme with Bjelica takes place when he catches the ball on the perimeter, performs a ball fake, before driving to the basket, skipping out on a catch and shoot three.
Once again let's hop into our DeLorean and travel back to Bjelica's time in Europe.
While we can see the same tendency to ball fake and drive, we can also see him be effective at this given the right opportunity. Bjelica needs to learn to simply catch, shoot and make his threes. We know he is capable of this as demonstrated by his 38.3 percent shooting from deep last year. By doing this he will open up the floor for him to drive. However this only happens if NBA teams have to respect his shot.
The biggest takeaway from this time travel adventure should be Bjelica's off ball movement. As you can see in the video above he seems to know where to be and when to be there. He is very good at finding the open space and cutting to the rim. This isn't something that has been featured during Bjelica's time as a Wolf and I believe this needs to change.
With a year left on the his three year deal it seems likely that if Bjelica doesn't improve as a shooter and grow into a quality bench player he will soon find himself playing back in Europe. There's nothing wrong with this, for him. For the Wolves its another swing and miss at finding someone, anyone, who can be trusted to provide rotation-level minutes on an NBA floor.