One of the most unique players in this years draft class in terms of the rare combination of skills he possesses as a 6-10 guard, few prospects evoke such a wide array of opinions as Red Star Belgrades Nemanja Bjelica.
Possessing outstanding height at 6-10, to go along with an average frame, wingspan and overall athleticism, Bjelica is essentially a point guard trapped in a power forwards body. He possesses an average first step by NBA standards and isnt particularly explosive, but is an extremely fluid and coordinated player with a very unique skill-set.
Bjelicas biggest strengths revolve around his terrific ball-handling ability and passing skills. He can grab a rebound and take the ball coast to coast without the slightest bit of hesitation, and is extremely dangerous creating shot-opportunities for himself and others out of pick and roll situations. He does an excellent job of finding the open man in transition, and makes some extremely creative drive and dish passes thanks to his terrific court vision. Watching him play, it doesnt take long to come to the conclusion that his feel for the game is obviously very good.
While his first step is nothing to write home about, Bjelicas unique timing, ability to go left or right and extremely long strides makes him an intriguing mismatch threat at the European level. On top of that, hes the type of player who has great confidence in his abilities and wants to take responsibilities for his team, being very aggressive looking to make things happen, particularly in clutch moments.
The fact that he can create off the dribble and get his shot off at his size puts a lot of pressure on the defense, particularly when operating at the power forward position like he does quite a bit at Red Star. At this juncture that doesnt always result in high percentage shot opportunities for himself or his teammates, though.
Bjelica is far from being an efficient player at this point in time, as hes not a prolific scorer, is extremely turnover prone, and is a very inconsistent 3-point shooter on top of that, as evidenced by the 17-61 (28%) hes shooting from beyond the arc in 25 games this season. His shooting mechanics dont look particularly flawed, although his shot-selection at times does, having a tendency to settle excessively for tough, contested pull-up jumpers, especially once hes stopped on his initial slashing move.
As talented and creative a ball-handler as Bjelica is, his decision making skills still need a significant amount of work, as we can tell by his incredibly high turnover rate, coughing the ball up on 26% of his possessions in the Adriatic League. He tends to overestimate his shot-creating ability quite a bit, dribbling the ball into traffic with his head down, trying to get too fancy with his passes, and making careless turnovers in the process.
He has a lot of trouble finishing around the basket in traffic as well due to his lack of strength and explosiveness, something that will likely become much more pronounced against the far more athletic big men hell face in the NBA.
Bjelica the type of player who needs the ball in his hands quite a bit in order to be effective, most likely to play pick and roll from the top of the key in a Hedo Turkoglu-type role, but there are significant question marks about whether an NBA team would actually grant him such a significant role considering his limitations in other areas. He would need to become a much better spot-up shooter spending far more time playing off the ball than he currently is, something that hes could very well be capable of doing down the road.
Bjelicas defense is also a big question mark for the NBA ranks, as there are plenty of concerns regarding his poor lateral quickness and how hed fare as a man to man defender on the perimeter. He gets beat off the dribble quite a bit already at the NBA level, so its not a stretch to say that he would be somewhat of a defensive liability once teams catch on and decide to isolate him against athletic slashing types.
Bjelica does have nice timing and anticipation skills, though, something that shows up in particular on the glass, where he is an above average rebounder. He gets his hands on a lot of loose balls and does a nice job getting in the passing lanes as well. His size and length, combined with his smarts gives him a chance to develop into at least a decent defender in time. Hell have to put a lot of work into this part of his game, starting with adding strength to his lanky frame, in order to get there down the road.
Only a 21-year old playing his second real season of professional basketball (he played for his agents team in Austria in 2007-2008), but already a contributing member of the Serbian National Team squad which reached the finals of the European Championships in Poland this past summer, Bjelica still obviously has a lot more room to grow as a player.
Players with his combination of size, skills and basketball IQ are quite rare, which is why many respected NBA scouts are very high on him, even if he has some glaring flaws to his game that must be addressed. Reportedly not being in a huge rush to make the jump to the NBA at this point, Bjelica is the type of player a team can draft and stash in Europe to see how he develops over the next few seasons, which makes him a solid candidate to hear his name called somewhere in the second round.