Draymond Green’s praise for the unexpected ability of his frontcourt colleague should make Warrior fans salivate: “I didn’t know Belly could play games like this outside of dribbling”.
Golden State Warriors striker Draymond Green is brutally honest in his assessment of opponents and often his own teammates as well. So that Green’s shocked at Nemanja Bjelica’s skills speaks a lot about how important the veteran striker could be to the Warriors this season.
Bjelica wasn’t the most dazzling off-season signing. In fact, his arrival was mostly lost in the mix of Golden State’s plans, as well as in Andre Iguodala’s return from the Warriors and in response to Andrew Wiggnins’ stance on vaccination. However, as Green suggested, he could be one of the top Dubs players this season.
Nemanja Bjelica is a former MVP of the Euroleague. Draymond Green had to be reminded of the Serbian striker’s past glory.
On Tuesday, Green told reporters (including Anthony Slater of The athlete) that he was completely unaware of Bjelica’s ability to break defenders and be a playmaker with the ball in hand.
Bjelica has traditionally been a down-to-earth big guy over the course of his six-year career. But he told Green that in Europe he’s more of a total playmaker who thrives with the ball in his hands.
European big players have generally shown more skill in terms of sight of the court and ability to pass. Denver Nuggets Center and reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (also Bjelica’s compatriot) is a perfect example of this idea. Indeed, Bjelica’s own propensity for making moves away from the jump is evident through his play for Serbia at the 2019 FIBA World Cup when he averaged 4.6 cents per 36 minutes.
As Green went on to explain, this skill makes Bjelica all the more dangerous on a Warriors team that ranks the floor and usually plays without a “traditional” big man.
Draymond Green has one of the highest basketball IQs in the NBA. He understands how valuable Bjelica’s skills are, especially because of the way the warriors play. Green should know. He also benefits from Golden State’s offensive style.
While Draymond usually struggles to kick the ball out of the perimeter, his ball handler and screener skills make him an integral part of the Warriors’ offensive system. The outspoken Dubs striker believes this system works for Bjelica too.
Green said Golden State’s tendency to straddle the bottom and play without a traditional, painted big should open the lane for Bjelica to either score the dribble or open the archers on the wings and in the corners. That could be critical as Bjelica’s shooting ability forces the defenders to close.
On this last point, there is one particular man Bjelica could develop a particularly strong relationship with: Stephen Curry.
As crazy as it may seem, Stephen Curry hasn’t played with too many expansive bigs who can create outside of the jump. The thought of Curry Bjelica pick and roll campaigns is all the more fascinating.
Opponents may not be able to hedge as much against Curry coming from Bjelica screens because of the efficiency of the big man from beyond the arc. Bjelica shoots 38.7% from depth for his career and has shot over 40% in three different seasons.
If Bjelica bursts, Curry can swing the ball back to him for possible open threesomes. If the defense spins and Bjelica rolls, his ability to play on the ricochet could lead to buckets on the edge or kick-out opportunities for some of his other teammates. He might also succeed in finding baseline cutters like Green.
Keep this in mind: Bjelica averaged 4.2 assists per 36 minutes last season. The passing game he shows in international competitions carries over to the NBA. He could become even more of a gambling threat in Golden State, where the ball never sticks and the constant danger that Curry poses opens things up to all of his teammates.
Keep an eye on how Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is putting Bjelica this season, plus the plus-minus and offensive ratings when he shares the floor with the likes of Curry and Green. The 33-year-old could be the unannounced off-season signing that can help unlock Golden State’s offensive potential to the full.