By Euroleague Basketball
His five-year Turkish Airlines Euroleague career has been the perfect example of constant, season-by-season improvement. But in what was arguably the crucial month of this season’s most decisive phase yet, forward Nemanja Bjelica of Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul put his many exquisite skills together like never before to become Euroleague Basketball’s choice as the bwin MVP for March.
Bjelica, 26, led Fenerbahce’s take-over of Top 16 Group F with four victories in March that extended its winning streak to a club-record nine games. The average margin of victory for Fenerbahce in March was an incredible 14.5 points per game. The highlight was the first win by any Euroleague opponent on the floor of Olympiacos Piraeus in more than year. Bjelica finished the month with a stream of stats – 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block per game – that only hinted at how much his all-around effectiveness set Fenerbahce apart. Steady though he was, Bjelica often played spectacularly, too, marrying function and style in a way that made him the hands-down choice for bwin March MVP.
The bwin MVP of the Month honor is now in its 11th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team’s performance. The award for March was based on the four Top 16 games that all teams played between March 4 and 27. Euroleague Basketball partner bwin is the sponsor of the MVP of the Month award. Just as the best Euroleague player each month combines performance and leadership for success, so does bwin’s sponsorship communicate its conviction to be the best betting brand in European basketball.
Fenerbahce was on a four-game streak of close wins before it opened March by exploding for a 92-79 victory against Nizhny Novgorod. Bjelica’s 16 points and 7 rebounds were both team highs and gave him six consecutive double-digit scoring performances. He missed only 2 of 11 shots shot and dished 3 assists, as well.
Next, Fenerbahce visited Olympiacos, which had won 13 consecutive Euroleague games at Peace and Friendship Stadium. Bjelica again scored 16 points, more than any Olympiacos player, and pulled 9 rebounds of his team’s 42-29 advantage on the boards. Bjelica’s 2 three-pointers in the last 5 minutes helped stretched a 56-60 advantage to 56-68 as Fenerbahce went on to win 64-73, bettering the point difference from its earlier loss to Olympiacos.
A week later, in a resounding 98-77 win over EA7 Emporio Armani Milan that clinched Fenerbahce’s place in the playoffs, Bjelica had the second-highest performing index rating of his career, 30, despite taking only 4 shots. He made both of his two-point tries and 1 of 2 three-pointers plus 6 of 6 free throws for 13 points, had another 9 rebounds and posted a career-high 6 assists.
To finish the month, Bjelica shook off a quiet first half to finish with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, plus 2 assists and 2 blocks, as Fenerbahce took off after halftime to a 78-63 victory over Unicaja Malaga.
By month’s end, Bjelica had put up enviable numbers in every facet of the game while shooting 62.5% on two-pointers, 55.5% from the arc and 71.4% at the foul line. He had lifted himself to the third-ranked position for the full season in average performance index rating. Most importantly, his consistency and ability to seize the moment also had Fenerbahce on the brink of earning its first-ever home-court advantage in the playoffs. Whether or not that happens, Fenerbahce fans will get a chance to thank their steady star when he receives his first individual trophy in the Euroleague, the bwin MVP of the Month award, at an upcoming home game.