By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
You can argue that German center Daniel Theis has a better NBA reputation than Serb forward Nemanja Bjelica. After all, even if you go by the numbers, Theis has already 38 playoff games under his belt, averaging 6.1 ppg, and all of them as a member of the Celtics.
On the other hand, however, Bjelica is a marquee name in international basketball. The EuroLeague MVP of 2015, a Turkish league champion in 2014, and two times silver medal winner with Serbia in the FIBA World Cup of 2014 and Eurobasket 2009 is not a stranger to accolades and trophies.
However, in his seven NBA seasons, Bjelica couldn’t replicate this kind of success. A star who thrived under pressure has played so far only 17 playoffs game, ten of them with the Warriors this season in his only meaningful playoffs run in the top league of the world.
His game and his ability to pass and shoot from long distance in theory made the Warriors the perfect match for him. After all, in his season debut back on the 19th of October 2021, Bjelica recorded a double-double off the bench with 15 points and 11 rebounds in a 121–114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
“That’s the beauty of our team this year, we are built to take advantage of 4-on-3,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game.
“Bjelica is really a hell of a basketball player. We’ve all watched him stretch the floor and be a pick-and-pop 3-point shooter, but he’s showing what he’s about in terms of his ability to pass, dribble and make plays. When you get 4-on-3 with guys like him, Draymond [Green], Andre [Iguodala], making plays with shooters like Jordan Poole and Damion Lee, Otto Porter, you’re going to get good shots every time. Steph is a guy that generates every single advantage, then we have a team that can take advantage of that this year.”
It was considered by many a sign of things to come, but that was not the case. By averaging just 16 minutes per game, Bjelica never became a regular contributor for the Warriors even if he appeared in 71 regular-season games.
That was also reflected in the playoffs. Bjelica wasn’t used in six games, averaging just 12 minutes per game in 10 contests. The only real exception was Game 5 against Dallas when Otto Porter Jr was injured.
Bjelica played for 22 minutes, bringing on a great defensive effort against Luka Doncic. “If I were smarter, I would’ve played him earlier in the series, those minutes were huge”, said Kerr after the game in a light mood.
“Honestly, he’s a great basketball player,” Kerr continued. “He understands the game, the ball moves when it’s on the pitch. He did a good job defensively tonight. Those minutes were huge. Without Otto, we greatly miss his contribution on both sides of the field. I think Belly brought us that tonight. He was very good on both sides.”
It remains to be seen if those compliments mean also a bigger role in the first NBA finals for the 34-years-old Bjelica. And with him being a free agent this summer after choosing to sign a one-year deal with the Warriors, it goes without saying that the chance to win an NBA ring means the world to him.