Serbian Scouting Trip, Part Two: Second Round ProspectsFebruary 24, 2010
One of the most unique players in this year’s 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 Belgrade’s 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 forward’s body. He possesses an average first step by NBA standards and isn’t particularly explosive, but is an extremely fluid and coordinated player with a very unique skill-set.
Bjelica’s 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 doesn’t 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, Bjelica’s 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, he’s 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 doesn’t 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 he’s 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%) he’s shooting from beyond the arc in 25 games this season. His shooting mechanics don’t look particularly flawed, although his shot-selection at times does, having a tendency to settle excessively for tough, contested pull-up jumpers, especially once he’s 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 he’ll 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 he’s could very well be capable of doing down the road.
Bjelica’s defense is also a big question mark for the NBA ranks, as there are plenty of concerns regarding his poor lateral quickness and how he’d 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 it’s 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. He’ll 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 agent’s 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.
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Blogging Through Europe 2008 (Part One: Belgium)November 26, 2008
Keselj was unfortunately out with a stomach virus, but we did get to see Kikanovic see a decent amount of playing time in not a particularly noteworthy performance. Luck would have it though that we would be able to take in a short glimpse at what might be an intriguing prospect for down the road, Serbian Nemanja Bjelica. Surprisingly never having played for any of the various Serbian national teams, Bjelica is having somewhat of a breakout season, seeing solid playing time at a very high level of competition, in basically his first season of professional basketball.
Despite standing 6-10, Bjelica saw some minutes as a defacto point forward, being asked to bring the ball up the floor and get his team into their offense in this all-important road game in a fairly hostile environment. That should tell you a little bit about the confidence that Pesic has in this kid, and he couldn’t help but smile when asked about him afterwards in the press conference, noting that he is indeed a very intriguing prospect, while taking the politically correct approach to saying that they have many nice youngsters they are developing. He did throw out the obligatory Toni Kukoc comparison, which we heard from other sources as well.
Bjelica is a very long and skinny wing player, reasonably athletic, with a solid, yet underdeveloped frame, looking quite comfortable putting the ball on the floor with solid ball-handling skills and a nice first step, and even going into the paint to post up his matchup on one occasion. His decision making skills seemed a bit too erratic to fully trust at this level, and he was quickly benched after just a few minutes out on the floor. Defensively he has the length and footwork needed to compete on the perimeter, even if there is obviously work for him to do on this end of the floor. Still, he’s a guy to keep under the radar for now to see how he develops. He did show a very nice stroke from beyond the arc in warmups.
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