Timberwolves fans, it’s time to show Nemanja Bjelica some appreciation

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors defends against Nemanja Bjelica #8. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 11: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors defends against Nemanja Bjelica #8. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Nemanja Bjelica has filled in nicely since the injury to Jimmy Butler. Fulfilling the potential he showed the basketball world during his 2015 EuroLeague MVP run.

It’s been nine games since Jimmy Butler last played for the Timberwolves. On the flip side, it has been nine games since Nemanja Bjelica was given the opportunity to start for the Wolves.

In those nine games, Bjelica has been everything Tom Thibodeau could have hoped and dreamed of. He may not be putting up numbers worthy of the basketball world losing their minds over, but Bjelica has played consistent basketball which is something that most Wolves players have struggled to do this season.

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Before getting into a deeper analysis of his numbers over the past nine games, take a face value look at them.

Bjelica has averaged 12.1 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent shooting from three. Nearly grabbing eight rebounds and has dished out just under three assists per game. His best game offensively over this stretch came against the Boston Celtics on March 8. in an unfortunate 117-109 loss.

It was a career night for him as well, scoring a team-high thirty points in the game.

What also makes him so dangerous is his dribble-drive. Defenders are forced to respect his range and understandably so. However, when they do guard him tightly on the perimeter, Bjelica has the tendency to make the defense over-extend themselves.

Bjelica doesn’t feel the need to force up a contested floater. Instead. he makes the smart basketball play and does what is best for the team.

On this next dribble drive Bjelica does force a shot however, no teammates were around, and his effort to keep the ball alive is unreal.

Nemanja’s overall numbers have been nothing mind-blowing on offense. However, consistency is key for everyone on the team, especially right now in the playoff race they are in. That is exactly what Bjelica has brought to the table while filling in the starting rotation.

He was especially dominant over the past six games for the Wolves before their loss to the San Antonio Spurs, on March 17.

As for his defense, he has been nothing short of excellent over the past nine games. Bjelica was most notably at his best while guarding Kevin Durant during the Wolves game against the Golden State Warriors on March 11.

You read that correctly, Nemanja Bjeclica held Kevin Durant to 31% from the field.

Over the past nine games, Bjelica leads the team in defensive win shares (0.036). He also leads the team in overall defensive rating with a score of 107.7. Not only has Bjelica been a spark plug on offense, but he has proven to be one of the more consistent defenders since Jimmy Butler went down.

His athleticism as a forward combined with his effort, make him a true threat down low. He can match up against quicker players and still be able to protect the rim with his 6-foot-10, 230 pound build. Need more proof?

This next clip shows how aware he his on defense and further shows his effort level on the court.

By all means, Bjelica is no superstar defender. At the same time, he is no slouch. However, he certainly holds his own on that side of the ball while coming up with some big plays. At the end of the day, that is all you can ask for when filling in for Butler.

Just like any other player, Bjelica has his fair share of faults. There are times where he is too hesitant to put up shots as the best three-point shooter on the team. Then over the past nine games he has been one of the worst on the team when it comes to allowing points off of turnovers and on fast breaks. Other than those few areas, his play has been fairly solid.

However, a player like Bjelica is hard to come by. Between his size, on-court ability and his flexibility in terms of being a facilitator, he is a rare type. Not to mention how well he has been able to adapt to his position/role on the court and his willingness to do so.

It’s time that he is shown the appreciation he deserves. The Wolves may be 4-5 so far without Butler. However, they could be worse if not for Bjelica playing at the level he has been. Two of their four wins come against the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards, games in which Bjelica played vital roles.

Next: Butler-less Timberwolves

Bjelica is no Jimmy Butler, in terms of every aspect of the game that makes him a superstar and a leader, Bjelica has been a solid fill in the starting rotation.

Can we ask for more more?