The Timberwolves will introduce reigning Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica (nay-MON-yah bee-ELL-leets-zah) today at Mayo Clinic Square. The press conference is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. The team officially announced the signing of Bjelica yesterday. He will wear No. 88 for the Wolves.
Only four NBA players have worn the number before him. That list includes Nicolas Batum, Christian Eyenga, Antoine Walker (2005 with Boston), and former Wolves guard Alexey Shved (he wore No. 88 with Houston and Philadelphia, but not with the Wolves). No. 88 will be the highest uniform number in franchise history, topping Marko Jaric's No. 55.
A full list of all-time Wolves numbers can be found here. Oh, the memories.
Getting back to Bjelica... it took five years to bring him over, but the Wolves' 35th overall selection in 2010 will finally be playing ball in Minneapolis. That's how the draft-and-stash works. Picking talented international players and letting them improve on another teams dime overseas isn't a new practice in the league, but it's not something the Wolves have had great success with aside from Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic.
Quick Flashback to June 24, 2010: Bjelica was traded by the Washington Wizards with Lazar Hayward to the Wolves for Trevor Booker and Hamady N'Diaye. KAHN!
Bjelica's contract - 3-years, $11.7 million plus an additional $625,000 for his buyout clause with Fenerbahce Ulker - seems like outstanding value for a player with his vast skillset, especially when considering the eye-popping contracts handed out during free agency.
According to this report, the club signed 27-year-old Italian small forward Luigi Datome, which is likely in response to Bjelica's departure. Datome played 55 career games in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics.
You can find Bjelica's Euroleague statistics here. Let's check out his top five plays from this past season.
European basketball reporter David Pick caught up with former Sixers GM Brad Greenberg for a one-on-one scouting report and overview of Bjelica back in April (source).
Greenberg said the following:
"Bjelica is the most efficient and consistent player on his team," Greenberg said. "He's unique because he can move with and without the ball, run the floor and start a fastbreak. He has isolation sets run for him, he can attack from the top and poses all sorts of problems."
"Can Bjelica be on an NBA team? Sure. Will he? I don't know," Greenberg said. "Like all high-level Euroleague players who make a lot of money overseas, it has to be a situation that makes sense financially, and where he gets an opportunity to play.
"Europeans don't want to give up something that is comfortable, good and financially rewarding for a ‘what if?' situation. Bjelica is talented enough to be in an NBA gym and not look out of place. That's for sure."
What NBA position would best fit Bjelica?
"He is a power forward who can matchup against small forwards, but NBA teams would look at him as a tweener because he is long, can shoot and run like a wing," said Greenberg.
I'll be at the presser and will post the notable quotes later today.
After going 1-2 in the preliminary round of Summer League, the Wolves are set to play Portland at 9:30 p.m. (CT) at the Thomas & Mack Center tonight. The game opens up tournament play for the team. The winner will play #2 seeded Boston on Thursday night at Thomas & Mack at 9:30 pm (CT), while the loser will play the loser of Cleveland/Chicago at 5:30 pm (CT) on Friday.
We will have to see how far Towns, Jones, Brown, and Payne can take the Wolves in the tournament, but obviously it would be nice to see them make some noise seeing as the four will be on the roster come October. Only Lorenzo Brown is up in the air, though my money is on him sticking with the team for the foreseeable future.
One quick thought from Summer League: TOWNS CAN REALLY PASS THE ROCK. I can already see him and Rubio shredding defenses with their passing ability, creating easy buckets for backdoor cutters like Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, and Zach LaVine.