Coach Mike Brown explains his decision to start Sasha Vezenkov

Oct 13, 2023, 3:33 PM | Updated: 4:37 pm

Head coach Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings reacts during the first quarter against the Philadelp...

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings reacts during the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on December 13, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Two days after their preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim, Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Brown spoke with reporters about his team’s performance, Chris Duarte’s early defensive impact, the decision to start Sasha Vezenkov, and more.

Keegan Murray did not play in that game due to a sore right thumb that got hit in practice. On Friday, Murray was seen with a wrap on that finger, but Coach Brown clarified that it was a precautionary measure. With Murray unavailable, Vezenkov was moved into the starting lineup for many reasons, as Brown explained.

“First of all, it’s a preseason game. In the preseason, you take a look at a lot of different things,” Brown said. “So, for me, I wanted to take a look at him with our starting group. I wanted to see how he’d handle it starting, I wanted to see how he’d play with [Domantas Sabonis], Domas is different than JaVale [McGee]. Domas is a playmaking big, JaVale can play make some, but he’s a vertical big for us and so it’s a little bit different game. And then, at the end of the day, I know he’s 28 and just a rookie but I just wanted to see how he would handle it. Not necessarily his play, but handle it nerve-wise and all that others stuff, because I don’t think I told him until we got to the arena.”

The reigning EuroLeague MVP ended the game with seven points, two rebounds, and one assist on 3/10 shooting. Despite an unideal percentage, his offensive production has never been in question. Since joining the team, Vezenkov has reportedly broken organizational records in their shooting drills and displayed his well-rounded, high-IQ ability to contribute to scoring. Mike Brown has repeatedly been clear: it’s just going to be about whether he can survive defensively.

Brown expressed that Vezenkov’s defense was “pretty good” against the Lakers, but he needs to continue to learn personnel around the NBA.

“There are a lot of little things we’re looking at that the public doesn’t really see. We have guys that are labeled hot and not hot. And the guys that are hot, that means we got to get them off the line,” Brown said. “There were a couple of times in our second game that he ran the non-hot guys off the line, busting his behind and trying to get them off the line. So, now that guy that’s not hot, now he’s driving and we got to bring help and there’s probably a hot guy that he’s kicking too, so it’s a chain reaction that happens. In that area, as he continues to get a feel for the league and how fast and athletic everybody is, he’ll get better because he’s a very, very intelligent guy.”

But that’s not the only player that they are trying to gain a better understanding of defensively. Chris Duarte, acquired in the offseason via trade from the Indiana Pacers, showed his potential on that end. Brown highlighted that Sacramento ranked 30th in pick-and-roll defense last season, but he saw some promising moments in that aspect from Duarte, De’Aaron Fox, and Davion Mitchell in Anaheim.

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Next up on the Kings’ preseason schedule is a matchup with their growing rivals, the Golden State Warriors, at Chase Center on Sunday night.

“This game we’ll probably play the same, probably play the same way,” Brown said Friday afternoon. “We may add one or two things offensively. We may try to mix things up a little bit more, but as we continue to get closer to the regular season, we will try to get most of our stuff in and then try to get our guys real minutes and try to get the rotation down as close to what it may be come opening night.”

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • Sunday, October 15th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 6:30 PM PST
  • Wednesday, October 18th – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Thursday, October 19th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7 PM PST

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Regular Season Schedule

  • Tuesday, October 24th – NBA regular season begins
  • Wednesday, October 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Utah Jazz – 6 PM PST (Season Opener)
  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST (Home Opener)
  • Sunday, October 29th – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 6 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST

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Coach Mike Brown explains his decision to start Sasha Vezenkov