Philadelphia 76ers: Brett Brown was right about Nemanja Bjelica

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Since spurning the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency, Nemanja Bjelica is having a career season in Sacramento. I guess Brett Brown was right after all.

I was wrong about Nemanja Bjelica.

When news broke over the summer that the Philadelphia 76ers had used their mid-level exception to bring the former Minnesota Timberwolf to town, it seemed like a misguided attempt to make the team better after striking out on players like LeBron James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard (via trade).

You see, Bjelica was coming off of a statistically anomalous 41.5 shooting season in Minnesota, albeit on only 2.7 shots a game, and looked like a perfect low-risk, medium-reward player to sign to a one-year $4.4 million deal on paper. However, standing 6-foot-10, 234 pounds, Bjelica seemed remarkably similar to Dario Saric, albeit a less dynamic version, and likely would have struggled to keep up in Brett Brown‘s switch-heavy scheme due to his underwhelming athleticism.

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Boy was I wrong.

After initially backing out of the Sixers deal to return to Europe, Bjelica turned hardcore fan’s heads by agreeing to a 3-year, $20.5 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, and he’s been better than advertised since donning the purple and white.

At the ripe old age of 30, which is ancient for a fourth-year player in the NBA, Bjelica is putting up career numbers across the board; averaging 10.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and .8 blocks in 24.3 minutes of action a night while maintaining his career high 41.5 completion percentage from 3 point range.

Oh yeah, and he’s doing so while attempting 3.5 shots a game.

Just for reference, the stretch four the Sixers eventually procured to fill out their roster, Mike Muscala, is completing roughly the same number of 3 pointers as Bjelica (1.5 vs. 1.4) but he’s doing so on one more shot a game (4.3 vs. 3.5). Though their production isn’t too far apart, Bjelica is averaging 2.7 more points, 1.7 more rebounds, and a more consistent 3 point shot in only 2.1 more minutes of action a night.

No matter how you slice it, Bjelica is having a better season than Muscala, and had the Sixers been able to secure his services on a one-year deal, it would have certainly made the team better.

With Bjelica on the roster, the 76ers would in all likelihood be rolling out a starting five featuring the Ben Simmons at the one, J.J. Redick at the two, Jimmy Butler at the three, Nemanja at the four, and Joel Embiid at the five, with Wilson Chandler more correctly cast as a swing forward coming off the bench. This alignment would have given the Sixers yet another swing forward capable of playing the four on offense, and three on defense, while providing some additional rim protection in Embiid-less sets.

Having a player like Bjelica on the roster right now would probably help to ease Embiid’s workload as he currently fights through a rough back injury that should be limiting his minutes. While Bjelica is far from a traditional center, his size and length could help to ease the pressures brought on reserves like Jonah Bolden and Amir Johnson, who are occasionally tasked with replacing an All-Pro-level talent’s production in a platoon setting.

Furthermore, had the team been able to sign Bjelica, they wouldn’t have had to trade away Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to procure Muscala and could have either continued to develop the duo as 3-and-D bench pieces or packaged them in another deal to procure an additional asset.

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So Brett Brown, if you are listening, I’m sorry for questioning your decision to sign Nemanja Bjelica to the mid-level exception last summer. Had the deal gone through, it would have without a doubt made the Philadelphia 76ers a better, deeper team both now, and going into the playoffs.