Much to the chagrin of Dub Nation, multiple key players from the Golden State Warriors‘ 2022 championship team will be balling with new teams next season. In the case of second unit stars Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., what they brought to the table was deemed too costly to retain by the team’s decision-makers.
Others, meanwhile, simply weren’t part of the team’s long-term outlook, i.e. Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee, two-way baller Chris Chiozza, et al.
In the case of sharpshooting big man Nemanja Bjelica, however, there was a desire on the Warriors’ part to continue the partnership, according to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. Regardless, the 34-year-old opted to collect his championship ring and leave the NBA altogether in favor of joining one of his former teams abroad.
On Tuesday, that move finally became official.
Beli’s Turkish Deal Announced
Per an announcement from the team, Bjelica has put pen to paper on his deal with Fenerbahce of the Basketball Super League (BSL) in Turkey and EuroLeague. The 6-foot-10 big man will be joining the club on a two-year pact.
Turkish journalist Ugur Ozan Sulak broke the news of Bjelica’s impending move back on July 1 as NBA free agency was just kicking into high gear.
A seven-year vet of the Association, Bjelica had joined the Warriors last offseason as a second unit floor-spacer and, for the most part, he was as advertised for Steve Kerr’s squad. The Serbian national appeared in 71 games for the Warriors last season, averaging 6.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 16.1 minutes per outing.
Along the way, he connected on 36.2% of his shots from distance (which represented 43.6% of his total field-goal attempts).
By the time postseason play rolled around, though, he was largely relegated to spot duty by Kerr.
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A Hero’s Welcome?
Bjelica’s move back to Europe is significant not only because he’s leaving NBA money on the table, but also because he’s returning to the team where he achieved his highest level of individual success.
After bouncing around Europe during the late 2000s/early 2010s, the Belgrade native decided to make the move to Turkey and Fenerbahce in 2013 so he could play under head coach Zeljko Obradovic. He went on to win a Turkish Presidential Cup (2013) and a Turkish League title (2014) before capturing EuroLeague MVP honors in 2015.
That season, he averaged 11.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and one steal per contest while shooting 54% from the floor and 37.2% from three-point range.
During Dubs training camp late last year, Warriors star Draymond Green remarked that he was caught off guard by Bjelica’s varied skill set. “We’ve all watched him stretch the floor and be a pick-and-pop 3-point shooter, but he’s showing what he’s about in terms of his ability to pass, dribble and make plays,” Green said, via Slater.
According to Green, Bjelica relayed to him that those things were always part of his game in Europe, but that he had been relegated to spot-up shooting by NBA coaches. Now, as he returns to his old MVP digs, some of those underutilized skills may just come back to the forefront.
Undoubtedly, the Ulker faithful will be happy to see it.