SACRAMENTO KINGS

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Season Preview: Sasha Vezenkov

Sep 27, 2023, 11:00 AM

Sasha Vezenkov of Olympiacos Piraeus in action during the 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Reg...

VITORIA-GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 21: Sasha Vezenkov of Olympiacos Piraeus in action during the 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season Round 4 match between Cazoo Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and Olympiacos Piraeus at Fernando Buesa Arena on October 21, 2022 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain. (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

During the 2022 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings, led by general manager Monte McNair, traded the 49th pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for the right to swap second-rounders in 2022, $ 1.75 million, and the draft rights to Sasha Vezenkov.

The Brooklyn Nets originally selected the 6’9″, now 28-year-old with the 57th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. His rights made it to Cleveland as a small piece in a four-team trade that included James Harden.

Vezenkov has been playing professional basketball since he was 16 years old. He played for Aris BC in the Greek Basket League for four seasons. At 19, he was the league’s MVP, Most Improved Player, and Best Young Player in the same season. After finding success, he made his way to Barca, where he could participate in the Euroleague. That came with a notably lesser role. His 32.4 minutes in the year prior diminished to 11.7 with Barca.

With his numbers gradually improving each year, Vezenkov elected to return back to the Greek Basket League with Olympiacos BC in 2018. They were also members of the EuroLeague and that’s where Sasha Vezenkov really began to blossom. Seven years removed from the first time, he won the Greek League Most Improved Player and MVP again, along with All-Euroleague First Team.

Fast forward to this summer, when he signed a three-year, $20 million deal to officially join the Sacramento Kings.

During his Sacramento Kings introductory press conference, Vezenkov gave a peek into his mindset. “I will do what I was doing until now,” he said. “I will try to improve in every practice, in every game.”

Continually seeking potential improvement has allowed Sasha Vezenkov to have incredible success in his career, including the 2022-23 Euroleague MVP Award.

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Sasha Vezenkov’s 2022-23 Season

Playing alongside Isaiah Cannan, Vezenkov led Olympiacos in points per game, rebounds per game, and minutes per game. He averaged 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 55.3 from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range. His scoring average was actually slightly higher in Euroleague games but at a lower field-goal rate. His listed combined numbers are representative of 70 games played across both leagues.

Within the Greek Basket League, Olympicos was dominant. Their only loss came in the championship series in a game where Vezenkov went down early and did not return. After going 22-0 in the regular season, with just one loss through three postseason series, Sasha Vezenkov was awarded his third Greek Basket League MVP.

In the more renowned Euroleague, Olympiacos finished with a league-best 24-10 record. The 6’9″ forward led the league in points per game (17.6) and finished third in rebounds per game (6.8). After advancing through the first two rounds of the Euroleague playoffs, they fell to Real Madrid in the championship.

Vezenkov had been reaching new heights throughout the last two seasons with the Sacramento Kings closely watching.

“I didn’t expect that almost every member would come to Greece,” Vezenkov said. “But they showed that they want me a lot. They followed me. They want me here.”

Strengths

Scoring efficiently is the name of the game for Sasha Vezenkov. Tallying upwards of 17 points on 55 percent from the field is impressive. Knocking down 38.3 percent of his 4.5 three-point attempts per game catches the attention of NBA talent evaluators. Mike Brown on the 48 Minutes Podcast said he’s a very good shooter.

“It’s early, I’ve only been around him for a couple of weeks now, but I could say, what I’ve seen so far, he’s one of the better shooters that I’ve been around. He’s not Steph or Klay, I don’t know if anybody will be on Steph or Klay’s level, but he can really really shoot the ball. He has a tremendous feel for the game. He passes well, he spaces the floor well, he cuts well, he plays really hard, and he’s not afraid of contact whether that’s defensively, offensively, or rebounding on both sides of the ball. So, you have those things at his size and you’re extremely excited.”

Former Kings’ forward Chima Moneke, who played against Vezenkov overseas, highlighted his efficiency with dribbles when previously speaking about Vezenkov. That should bode well in a Sacramento Kings offense with plenty of ball and player movement. His offensive style is very similar to what he’s used to from his time with Olympiacos.

“The pace [Sacramento] were playing was incredible. Fast and strong and tough and with this place, they’re winning games,” Vezenkov said. “Also, the movement, the passes, are not like a typical NBA team, and that’s like back in Europe.”

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Vezenkov also excelled as a rebounder throughout Europe. His aforementioned impressive tallies are intriguing considering Sacramento ranked 20th in rebounds per game (42.5) and what Kevon Looney did to them on the glass in the postseason.

As Brown mentioned in his interview, his overall feel for the game shows itself in many ways. He cuts and relocates well without the basketball, makes the right passes, doesn’t turn the ball over, and isn’t afraid to get physical. Remember, he’s also 6’9″.

Weaknesses

His defense is an unknown. In Euroleague play, teams did not have much success getting Vezenkov into switches and targeting him. That’s much more common in the NBA game with players better suited for that style. Mike Brown, on the 48 Minutes Podcast, expects players to test him defensively.

“It’s gonna be up to him to hold his own on that end of the floor. If he can hold his own on that end of the floor, we’re gonnna have a special player here because he’s got a lot of the other attributes out there that can give him a chance to have a very very successful NBA career.”

What is going to happen when he has to guard Chris Paul or Stephen Curry in isolation? How about Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant? Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard? Or even LeBron James? All of those players are in the Pacific Division with Sacramento.

He’s going to get tested early, it’s just about if he can survive. Physicality is a primary point of emphasis for the Kings as a whole this coming season, and that will remain true for Vezenkov. Can he be physical without fouling, move his feet well enough on the perimeter, and rotate as needed?

If the opposing team finds success employing that strategy, he could gain the label of being a bad defender and continue to get attacked more often.

How Sasha Vezenkov fits into the 2023-24 Sacramento Kings

As previously mentioned, Vezenkov’s offensive playstyle could lead to a seamless transition. He’s changed roles and adjusted to new styles of play a few times throughout the course of his career. Twelve years of professional experience is far from typical for NBA rookies.

“I’m ready. I’m 28 years old. I have the experience,” Vezenkov said at his press conference. “As I said, the NBA is a totally different league, but I have to adjust mentally first then physically to be ready to help the team. I’m here. Of course, like every beginning, is a little tough. My first game will be for sure nerves and it will be something new but as the time goes by, I will feel better and better.”

Rotationally, it’s hard to hypothesize a nightly minute total for the reigning Euroleague MVP. He’s projected as a forward alongside Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, Trey Lyles, Kessler Edwards, and Trey Lyles.

Chimezie Metu is now part of the Phoenix Suns, but he averaged just 10.4 minutes per night. Sasha Vezenkov averaged 26.8 minutes for Olympiacos last season. The number will likely lie somewhere in the middle of those two, with his defensive ability playing a key factor.

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