PRO TEAM: Red Star Belgrade
VITALS: 6'10", 225 lbs.
YEAR DRAFTED: 2010 by Washington (Round 2, Pick 35)
RIGHTS HELD BY: Minnesota Timberwolves
The first player not from Turkey in the FIBA World Cup releases of Draft Rights Retained is Serbia's Nemanja Bjelica. He may not be Turkish but he does play in Turkey professionally. I'll eventually get out of Turkey, I promise. I'm taking baby steps. Unlike the two previous World Cup entrants however, Nemanja Bjelica is actually a vital contributor to his team. The talented point forward, like DRR #14 Bojan Dubljcevic, could even have an NBA future with Minnesota. Let's see how he got to this stage of his career.
Bjelica began his career at age 19 with the Arkadia Traiskirchen Lions of the Austrian League. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game for the three time Austrian champions. He parlayed this one campaign into a contract with Adriatic League club Red Star Belgrade, one of the top clubs in his native Serbia.
His play in the Adriatic League is what put him on the map with NBA scouts. At 6'10", he was able to play down low on defense. On offense he was able to spread the floor and create mismatches with his deft passing and smooth outside shot. His team made the Eurocup both years he played in Serbia, but the second season was his finest still to this day. He averaged 18.9 PPG and 7.4 RPG domestically. He nearly doubled his scoring and tripled his rebounding from his first year in the Eurocup. While playing for Red Star, or KK Crvena zvezda Telekom, Bjelica got the call-up to the national team for the 2009 FIBA Basket European Championships in Poland. He was a bit player for the silver medal winning Serbians but would be a staple of the roster for the foreseeable future.
Coming into the 2010 NBA Draft, many scouts were hoping that foreseeable future was in the NBA. Washington took Nemanja in the second round with the 35th overall selection. He wasn't the US capital's property for very long though. His draft rights were shipped to Minnesota along with Marquette's Lazar Hayward for 23rd overall pick Trevor Booker and Hamady N'Diaye. Unfortunately for Bjelica so far, the only time he's crossed the pond was to play competitively was two preseason games against the Grizzlies and Spurs in which he scored a grand total of five points.
Those five points came as a member of Caja Laboral Baskonia in Spain. The three time Spanish champions had seen some quality talent come through their ranks over the years. Players such as Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, and Jose Calderon all plied their trade for Saski Baskonia at one point or another. Bjelica was relegated back to being a bench player for the reigning Spanish champions the first year of his contract, but his role increased over time. By his third season he had gotten his averages to a respectable 10 points and 5 rebounds a game, securing himself a transfer to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe Ulker.
Nemanja and Fenerbahçe won the 2013-14 Turkish playoffs, the team's fifth title since 2006. He plays alongside DRR #10 Izzet Turkyilmaz, lottery bust Jan Vesely, and two names you will see very soon here on Draft Rights Retained. At 26, Bjelica is no spring chicken by NBA prospect standards. If Nemanja continues to develop under Fenerbahçe coach Željko Obradović though, he could be a player for a Timberwolves trying to shake up the Western Conference. Now if I could just shake off the country of Turkey, I'd be happier. It is so much "work" copying and pasting all the foreign punctuation since I can't type it myself.
In the World Cup, Bjelica has been one of the brightest stars for Serbia. He is second on the team in scoring (12.6 PPG) and is first in rebounding (6.8 RPG). He has had two double-doubles in the tournament. The first one came in a win against Iran (18 points, 10 rebounds). The second one was more impressive but came in a loss. Nemanja put up 19 and 10 against the Gasol brothers and Spain in Serbia's final group stage game. They'll play Greece in the round of 16 on Sunday.
Thanks for reading the seventeenth edition of Draft Rights Retained right here on Bleeding Your Colors! I hope you enjoyed it and look forward to bringing you more wacky stories of players who the NBA has long since forgotten, but not their draft rights. Stay locked for a new profile until the list is exhausted. For more of me, check out my Twitter @TREVORutley and the official Bleeding Your Colors Twitter @B3WHYC3. For less of me, give your computer to Michael Bay. I'm sure he'll give it quite the explosive death.
Image Credits: Nemanja for Serbia (svevesti.com), Nemanja for Minnesota (relevant.at)