Nemanja Bjelica of fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul was named Euroleague MVP today, solidifying his place among the superstars of European basketball. He helped Fenerbahce reach its first Euroleague Final Four, which will be contested tomorrow in Madrid, where they will take on Real Madrid in the 2nd semifinal.
Bjelica had by far his best season as a pro, emerging as the key player on a top European club and showing his versatility as a big forward who can handle, shoot, pass and rebound, while also earning accolades for his defense and leading his team in steals.
Bjelica averaged 12 points and 8.6 rebounds in 28 minutes a game across all Euroleague games this season. He shot 35% from three and an excellent 57% from inside the arc, and as you can see from the highlight videos embedded in this article, has the ability to play inside and out, and possesses more than adequate athleticism.
Bjelica was born in 1988 and was automatically eligible for the 2010 draft, where he was taken with the 35th overall pick by the Washington Wizards, but traded to the Timberwolves in a draft night deal. He stayed in Europe following the draft, first with Caja Laboral in Spain, then beginning in 2013 with Fenerbahce, where he has really blossomed into an excellent all-around player.
This translated to the Serbian national team, which won the silver medal at the 2014 World Championship where Bjelica played a major role as the starting power forward and averaged in double figures in point for the tournament.
The question is whether the Wolves will actively seek to secure his services for next season. Certainly the team could use talent, and there isn't a clear answer at the power forward position on the current roster, so it seems like a good fit. However, with the likelihood that the Wolves will bring Kevin Garnett back, and the presence of Anthony Bennett and Adreian Payne on the roster along with the potential to draft a big man, it's unclear whether Flip Saunders sees room for Bjelica.
That would be disappointing given that I would bet on him to be the most reliable guy among that group. It wouldn't surprise me if Bjelica is in the NBA next year in a uniform other than the Wolves. His rights might be traded this summer, possibly as part of a bigger deal on draft night, or even later in the summer in a roster reshuffle.
The other factor will be cost. Bjelica will probably demand something resembling the mid-level exception (remember there is no rookie salary scale for him as a 2nd round pick), and whether there are teams that value him at that figure remains to be seen. He certainly has the option to remain at Fenerbahce, where he has another year on his contract should he not get the offer he's looking for.
But if Bjelica wants to give the NBA a shot, now is the time. He just turned 27 years old, is in his absolute prime, and is coming off the best year of his career. If it's something he wants, he should strike while the iron is hot.
I hope to see him in a Wolves uniform next fall. A 6'10" power forward who can shoot it some, handle the ball and pass in transition, and goes after rebounds aggressively? Yes please.
If you eager to see Bjelica in game action, Fenerbahce Ulker's semifinal against Real Madrid is scheduled to start at 2:00 pm CDT on Friday. Both semifinals will be available via ESPN3.