Sasha Vezenkov on getting better everyday, waiting for his opportunity
Oct 5, 2023, 1:00 PM
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
The Sacramento Kings added Euroleague MVP Sasha Vezenkov to their roster this past offseason and have high hopes for the 6’9 sharpshooter.
With a couple of days of training camp in the books, he’s acclimating with his new teammates on and off the court. The word family has been thrown around plenty in the early days of Sacramento’s 2023-24 season. With most of their roster returning from last season, there is a clear preexisting chemistry and willingness to embrace the new faces.
“From the first player to the team, everybody is so human,” Vezenkov said at media day. “A good, human person. A good human being. They help you. They ask you every day, ‘How’s your family?’ The connection is different.”
Vezenkov has previously emphasized his desire to improve each day, and that mindset remains true. He’s only been in Sacramento for slightly over a month but is continuing to get his footing.
“Every day is better and better. That’s what I expect with the games, too. With every other game, to be better and better,” Vezenkov said. “It’s different. I’m flying from another continent, another country, but as I said, I’m here for my dream, my work, and the team to win.”
To watch all media day interviews with Sacramento Kings players, check out the Sactown Sports 1140 YouTube page here.
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 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.”
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.”
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 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″.
His defense is 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 between those two, with his defensive ability playing a key factor.