Wolves’ Bjelica brings versatility, double 8’s
By Marcus R. Fuller St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- The first thing fans will recognize about newly signed Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica is his unusual jersey number: 88. Bjelica, the 2015 Euroleague Most Valuable Player who was offi...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - The first thing fans will recognize about newly signed Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica is his unusual jersey number: 88.
Bjelica, the 2015 Euroleague Most Valuable Player who was officially introduced by the Wolves on Wednesday afternoon, said he wanted to wear No. 8 in the NBA but that jersey was taken by second-year guard Zach LaVine.
“All my career I was wearing No. 8,” he said. “Here, No. 8 was occupied, so I choose to be Double 8.”
Once the 6-foot-10 Bjelica (pronounced bee-Ell-leets-zah) takes the court, Minnesota fans will see his versatility on full display, Wolves coach Flip Saunders said.
Bjelica can play inside but has the three-point range and ball-handling ability to play well in the pick-and-roll game.
He averaged 11.5 points while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey last season.
The 27-year-old Serbian was selected 35th in the 2010 draft by the Washington Wizards and traded to the Wolves. Bjelica also played three seasons in Spain.
“To his credit, what he has been able to do over these last five years in Europe, he’s developed his game,” Saunders said. “He’s put himself in a situation to not only come to the NBA, but have a huge impact within the NBA and within our organization.”
The Wolves said Bjelica could have been ready to play in the NBA two years ago, but they weren’t looking to add another frontcourt player at the time.
Bjelica said he wanted to play for Minnesota after being drafted, but he feels five years ago was “like100 years for me” in how much he has matured since then.
“I’m very happy because I will come to the NBA this way,” he said. “I know it was very tough and difficult, but I didn’t suffer because I want to show to everybody I deserve to be here.”
Bjelica will leave next week to play with the Serbian national team, and he will remain there until a few days before the Wolves open training camp in early October, Saunders said.
“I know one thing: I know he’ll come in good shape,” Saunders said. “That’s one positive thing.”
ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, who first watched Bjelica as an 18-year-old prospect, calls him a “solid rotation guy.”
“He has worked his way up the European ladder,” Fraschilla said. “He’s one of the more coveted players in Europe. Defensively will be a concern, but that’s not unusual for a player like him in the league. You have to cover for him defensively, but offensively he’s a very versatile big guy. Can play inside. Can play outside. Very team oriented. Perfect time to bring him over. He’s in the sweet spot in his career.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.