The NBA Finals are in full swing, and the Golden State Warriors are leading the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-0. With their backs against the wall, Cavs fans are hoping for a miracle run. But what if there was another way?
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Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors is known for being brutally honest in his assessments of opponents and, on occasion, his own teammates. So the fact that Green was taken aback by Nemanja Bjelica’s skill level says a lot about how crucial the veteran forward might be to the Warriors this season.
Bjelica wasn’t the most flashy offseason acquisition. Indeed, his presence was mostly overlooked in the midst of Golden State’s draft preparations, as well as the Warriors’ decision to bring back Andre Iguodala and the reaction to Andrew Wiggnins’ vaccine stance. Green, on the other hand, indicated that he might be one of the most important Dubs players this season.
Nemanja Bjelica’s ability to make plays off the dribble astounded Draymond Green.
Former Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica. Draymond Green needed a refresher course on the Serbian forward’s previous accomplishments.
Green told reporters on Tuesday, including Anthony Slater of The Athletic, that he had no idea Bjelica could break down opponents and create plays with the ball in his hands.
“I had no idea Belly could make dribbling plays like that.”
–Draymond Green, via The Athletic’s Anthony Slater
Throughout his six-year NBA career, Bjelica has been primarily a floor-spacing big man. He informed Green, though, that he was more of a complete playmaker in Europe, where he excelled with the ball in his hands.
European big men have a better court vision and passing skills than American big men. Nikola Jokic (also a countryman of Bjelica) of the Denver Nuggets, the reigning MVP, is a great illustration of this concept. Indeed, Bjelica’s proclivity for making plays on the fly was shown during his time with Serbia in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, when he averaged 4.6 dimes per 36 minutes.
Bjelica’s talent makes him even more dangerous on a Warriors team that spreads the floor and seldom uses a “conventional” big man, as Green went on to explain.
Green went into more detail about Bjelica’s importance as a playmaking big man.
On March 11, 2018, during a game at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Draymond Green blocks Nemanja Bjelica for a free shot. | Getty Images/Hannah Foslien
Draymond Green has one of the NBA’s highest basketball IQs. He recognizes the importance of Bjelica’s skill set, particularly given the Warriors’ style of play. Green should be aware of this. He, too, reaps the advantages of Golden State’s attacking approach.
Despite his inability to shoot from the outside, Draymond’s skills as a ball-handler and screener make him an important component of the Warriors’ offensive scheme. This method, according to the outspoken Dubs forward, will fit Bjelica as well.
Bjelica should be able to score off the dribble or kick to open shooters on the wings and in the corners because of Golden State’s propensity to spread the floor and play without a conventional, paint-bound big, according to Green. Bjelica’s shooting skill will push defenders to close out, thus this might be crucial.
On that final point, there’s one person in particular with whom Bjelica might form a deep bond: Stephen Curry.
As a roll man, Bjelica’s shooting and distributing skills may help Stephen Curry and the Warriors become more dangerous.
Stephen Curry hasn’t played alongside many floor-spacing bigs who can also create off the bounce, as strange as it may sound. That makes the prospect of Curry-Bjelica pick-and-rolls much more interesting.
Because of Bjelica’s effectiveness from beyond the arc, opponents may not be able to hedge as hard on Curry coming off Bjelica screens. Bjelica has a lifetime field goal percentage of 38.7% and has hit the 40 percent mark in three of his four seasons.
Curry can flip the ball back to Bjelica if he pops for open triples. Bjelica’s ability to create plays off the bounce may lead to baskets at the rim or kick-out chances for some of his teammates if the defense rotates and Bjelica rolls. He may also be able to discover basic cutters like Green.
Consider the following: This season, Bjelica averaged 4.2 assists per 36 minutes. In international tournaments, he has excellent passing skills, which transfers to the NBA. In Golden State, where the ball never stays and Curry’s continuous danger opens things up for his teammates, he might be even more of a playmaking menace.
Keep a watch on how Warriors coach Steve Kerr uses Bjelica this season, as well as his plus-minus and offensive rating while playing with Curry and Green. The 33-year-old may be the underappreciated offseason addition that allows Golden State to completely realize its scoring potential.
Basketball Reference provided the statistics.
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