Mike Brown on where Sasha Vezenkov stands in the Kings’ rotation

Oct 10, 2023, 3:28 PM | Updated: 3:35 pm

KAUNAS, LITHUANIA - MAY 21: Sasha Vezenkov, #14 of Olympiacos Piraeus during Turkish Airlines EuroL...

(Photo by Luca Sgamellotti/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)

(Photo by Luca Sgamellotti/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images)

Some eyebrows around the Sacramento Kings fanbase were raised during Sunday night’s preseason opener as the second unit took the floor in Vancouver, Canada.

Behind the consistent starting five of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes, and Domantas Sabonis was a group of players–both new and returning–that entered the game moments apart, but the focus essentially wasn’t on who was checking in:

It was who didn’t get off the Kings’ bench to check in for his unofficial NBA debut.

Of course, the player I’m referring to is rookie forward and reigning EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov, who was the 14th member of Sacramento’s roster to enter Sunday’s game against Toronto.

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Is Sasha Vezenkov on track to crack the Kings’ opening night rotation?

Even though he wasn’t called on until midway through the third quarter, Vezenkov’s preseason debut did not disappoint as the 6’9 Bulgarian finished the night with a team-high 12 points on four-of-seven shooting from the field and two-of-four from three-point land over just 11 minutes.

It didn’t take long for Vezenkov to drain his first triple as the Bulgarian drilled his first attempt from deep just seconds after checking into an NBA game for the first time en route to what was an overall positive introduction to NBA basketball.

While Vezenkov’s hot start from the field was a welcome sight, the fact that Brown called on his new forward that late in the game raised a pressing question:

Will Vezenkov be in the rotation come opening night on October 25th?

“I don’t know if he will be or not,” Brown answered when asked if Vezenkov will be in the rotation come opening night. “He’s just got to keep fighting his behind off and getting better every opportunity that he gets, whether it’s in practice and shoot-around or in a game.”

Vezenkov’s defense could be the deal-breaker in whether or not the 28-year-old will open the season with the second-stringers, an area of his game that Brown addressed following Tuesday’s practice session.

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“[Vezenkov] gave up middle a couple of times, and we’re a no-middle team,” Brown said of Vezenkov’s shaky defense against the Raptors. “He’s got to keep the ball on the sideline, and then he’s got to make sure that he continues to understand the league. He’s got to watch as much film as he can on guys that he matches up against so that he can try to pick up on their tendencies sooner than later.”

Brown’s emphasis on defense is warranted following Sacramento’s 25th-place finish in defensive rating during the 2022-23 season. The Kings will need more defensive output from each player on the roster, and event though Vezenkov is entering his rookie season, he will have to prove that he is capable of defending NBA forwards.

One half of a preseason game isn’t enough to write a player off, and Vezenkov will get another crack at proving he can contain his opponent when the Kings take the floor in Anaheim on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Brown: Rotations will look different on Wednesday night

Kings fans can expect to see a different series of player rotations when Sacramento laces up for their second game of the preseason.

Vezenkov was grouped with the third-stringers at Tuesday’s practice, but Brown said that he will likely tinker with both the second and third-string groups. The only group that Brown said he wouldn’t touch is the starting group of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes, and Domantas Sabonis.

“We’re just taking a look at different combinations,” Brown said on Tuesday when asked about what his rotations will look like as the preseason continues. “We may throw Sasha in with the second five and [Chris] Duarte with the third five. There’s only one thing that may not happen, and that is I don’t think I’ll mess with the starting five. The second and the third five can change at any time.”

Brown switched up his rotations in each of Sacramento’s first three preseason games last season before locking in his rotation for the final tune-up game.

Keegan Murray opened up the regular season playing behind KZ Okpala before a switch took place two games into the season. This is an example of how quickly Brown can change things up if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing, meaning that just because Vezenkov–or any player–opens up the season outside of the rotation, it doesn’t mean they are written off for good.

It’s a long season, and Vezenkov will need to prove that he can defend at the NBA level before he gets consistent minutes.

Next Game

Sacramento will continue its preseason schedule on Wednesday night when they travel south for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Lakers coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from Southern California.

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • Wednesday, October 11th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7 PM PST (in Anaheim, CA)
  • Sunday, October 15th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 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 (Season Opener)
  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM (Home Opener)

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