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Season Review: Sasha Vezenkov

The former EuroLeague MVP's disappointing rookie season was one of the many things that didn't go right for the Kings this year.
By | 47 Comments | May 15, 2024

Apr 14, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Sasha Vezenkov (7) looks to shoot the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter at the Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

2023 EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov was Monte McNair’s biggest acquisition last offseason, and to say it wasn’t enough to propel the Kings forward would be an understatement.

To be completely fair, McNair and the Kings banked on internal improvement and continuity to drive the organization forward in 2023-24. We now know that the bets on internal improvement and continuity didn’t hit, but if you were an optimistic Kings fan, you were counting on several factors to swing in Sacramento’s favor: Keegan Murray was going to have a massive offensive leap. Every young player that had career years in 2022-23 would stay on the same upward trajectory. The Kings would once again have incredible injury luck. The defense would improve in year two under Mike Brown. And Sasha Vezenkov would have an immediate impact.

Some of those things happened. A lot of them didn’t. But we’re here to talk about Sasha. Because Sasha was the only notable addition, it probably put some unrealistic expectation on his immediate impact, and the Kings’ depth couldn’t really afford Sasha to not be effective. Unfortunately for much of the season, Sasha was either injured or not very effective.

Sasha Vezenkov: 5.4 PPG, .440 FG%, .375 3P%, 2.3 REB, 0.5 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.2 BLK

On his best days, Vezenkov was an exceptional outside shooter with a lightning-quick release and one of the best off-ball movers on the roster.

On his worst days, Vezenkov was a 3-point chucker that got repeatedly targeted and torched on defense, and didn’t show the athleticism required to be an impact NBA player.

He also missed 22 games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury, and it never felt like he earned Mike Brown’s full confidence. Vezenkov will turn 29 in August. You could argue that his rookie season in the NBA was just plain bad and expecting anything from him moving forward would be a mistake. That is a perfectly fair position. You could also argue that Sasha’s rookie season was cursed with injuries, inconsistent playing time, and that he needed more time than the Kings could afford to adjust to the NBA style and pace. That is also a fair position.

This is where I admit that I’ve been a Sasha Vezenkov truther in the past. I was excited when the Kings traded for his rights. I was excited when Monte McNair signed him to a 3-yr/$20M contract last summer. I thought he’d have a bigger impact in year 1. I was wrong.

All that being said, I’m not ready to abandon Vezenkov island just yet. I see effort on defense despite mixed results. I see the deep volume shooting potential. I see the way he finds his spots and moves without the ball. I see him sprinting in transition. I see a reality where he is better next season and lives a little bit closer to the hype of a EuroLeague MVP.

And if it doesn’t work out, the Kings can get out of his contract with a team option at the end of the 2024-25 season.

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Greg
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May 15, 2024 9:23 am

I think it could have done wonders for Sasha if he had been healthy late in the season when Lyles was hurt. Mike Brown was desperate for answers and Sasha probably could have gotten a little more run and a little longer leash.

In interviews since the season ended Sasha has spoken openly about how the speed and talent level of the NBA was a bigger jump than he’d expected, and he’s talked about how he missed home. Tough season of adjustments, especially with injuries thrown in on top of it all. I still think Sasha can be a useful bench player next year, but my enthusiasm is more muted than it was before.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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May 15, 2024 10:06 am
Reply to  Greg

I hadn’t hear about the home sickness. That’s a real bummer that can definitely have an impact on his game. Hopefully the guy can hang out with teammates this summer and find a second home here.

murraytant
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May 17, 2024 3:38 pm
Reply to  Greg

Disappointment- don’t blame him- he had good attitude, played hard, communicated with teammates but just did not have the requisite skill

Hobby916
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May 15, 2024 9:33 am

I thought he didn’t get a chance to show his talents consistently. Almost like he knew he had 3 minutes to show he can hit some shots and just pulled the trigger when he got the ball.

When he did get some extended court time, the movement, cutting, shot making, started to show. But with the expectation of winning, Sasha didn’t have the time to “figure it out”. He probably will end up back in Europe after this contract and perform over there for several more years.

Hamlet1989
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May 15, 2024 9:50 am

If he avoids injury, I can see him contributing in the rotation. I hope he gets a more defined role next season after Monte re-sets this roster.. Either Barnes or Lyles will need to go, as they are all functionally the same player. Barnes’ spot needs to be upgraded, Sasha is the cheapest option off the bench, and Lyles, at his price, may be their best trade chip.

Hamlet1989
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May 15, 2024 10:03 am
Reply to  Hamlet1989

Obviously unrelated but, I was looking over the draft order this morning and realized I would feel a lot better about picking #13 if Sam Presti wasn’t #12.I really hate that guy.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
May 15, 2024 10:04 am

I give him an incomplete. He just never got a chance to fall into a rhythm. Couple that with a new league, environment, language, etc and I think it was a lost season for the guy. I’d like to see him back next year with a consistent role. We know he is a good basketball player as EuroLeague MVP is legit credentials.

We were hoping for Bojan Bogdanovic 2.0, but we somehow got an often injured Nemenja Bjelica lite. On to next season.

DutchKingsFanInUK
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May 15, 2024 10:14 am
Reply to  Adamsite

I couldn’t agree more with the incomplete. The only thing I’d like to add is that his defense definitely improved during the season, and showed he has a knack for positional defense and getting deflections. On-ball defense will probably remain an issue of his, but that does not mean he can’t be a positive force on the Kings. I hope the coaching staff give him more consistent playing time.

Klam
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May 15, 2024 11:15 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Well said. Agree with the incomplete grade.

Amonk81
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May 15, 2024 10:33 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

This O, as constituted is not suited for nor taking advantage of what Sasha does well. Movement off ball-cutting-moving ball-shooting. It’s a drive and spray fest of crap. Not really sure why McNair would get Sasha when Browns O ain’t right for him and Brown wants D.

Hopefully they figure the O out. The homesick thing is not great….

Marfu
May 15, 2024 10:30 am

I saw plenty. Sasha, did absolutely nothing to improve the team. Once a week he would nail a three pointer or two. I don’t believe he made it to double figures all season. I just don’t see what value he brings. Especially for the price he costs.

Hobby916
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May 15, 2024 10:40 am
Reply to  Marfu

He had 8 games (out of 42 played) that he scored double figures, with a season high of 14pts.

RikSmits
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May 15, 2024 10:58 am
Reply to  Hobby916

Yeah but other than that, he did absolutely nothing.

Hobby916
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May 15, 2024 11:04 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I was merely offering statistics.

RikSmits
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May 15, 2024 11:19 am
Reply to  Hobby916

I was being sarcastic.

In fact, Sasha had a higer rebounding percentage than the likes of Keegan, Kessler, Huerter, Fox, Monk and Barnes.

His TS% was better than Keegan, Fox, Huerter, and Monk.

And that was adjusting to a new league, country, and system while getting very little opportunity to grow comfortabnle in his role.

I still think that he can play a significant role. heck, he may even fit the starting 5’s goals, strengths and weaknesses better than Barnes.

Hobby916
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May 15, 2024 11:25 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I think there is a player in there, just not sure if he will get the chance to show what he can do.

Coach Brown talked a lot about need those spray 3s and putting them up at a high rate. Coach Brown also brought up many times how great of a shooter Sasha was, breaking basically every record in practice drills. Brown also rarely gave Sasha a chance to show what he can do.

I thought he did well and made smart plays during the season.

Maximus
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May 15, 2024 11:54 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Sasha was decent offensively. Defensively though it was rough. More than half of the time he played with Lyles and another big, which means he had to defend a small forward. That was setting him up to fail.

He needs to primarily play the back up 4, which means Lyles need to be the back up 5. I know Mike Brown worries about the defensive rebounding so he always wanted to play a traditional backup 5 but the problem was really the forward (Barnes) and the guard (Mitchell). If you replace Barnes with someone like Naji Marshall and/or Jae’Sean Tate, it should be fine to have Lyles at the backup 5 and Sasha at the back up 4.

Actually I really like to go after Naji Marshall in the free agency and a Davion Mitchell for Jae’Sean Tate trade to solidify the back up forward positions.

Hobby916
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May 15, 2024 11:58 am
Reply to  Maximus

Sound insights. I never liked Sasha guarding SFs, it was bad on the coach.

Naji would be a great get. Would it take the BAE or the MLE (Full or partial)?

Maximus
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May 15, 2024 1:29 pm
Reply to  Hobby916

I am guessing between 6-8M per year so that will be the MLE

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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May 15, 2024 2:55 pm
Reply to  Maximus

I think someone is going to overpay for Naji and I hope it’s not the Kings. He was a flat out bad shooter until this past season. I get Corey Brewer vibes from him.

Maximus
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May 15, 2024 3:43 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Maybe he will turn out to be a bad shooter. But his FT% is around 80% the last 3 years and he also take a decent amount of FT attempts. I can give him the benefit of the doubt.

Naji also has an in between game unlike Brewer. Besides, I envision Naji as the backup forward, not our starting forward.

Adamsite
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May 15, 2024 7:28 pm
Reply to  Maximus

Fair point. I’m just not fine with using the MLE on a guy that currently would be behind Keegan, Barnes, Lyles, and fighting for minutes with Duarte and Sasha. If moves are made and roles are opened up, then I could see it. As of today, I’m not down with the signing.

RikSmits
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May 16, 2024 7:04 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Corey Brewer is an international treasure who did his thing and just ran out of talent.

Last edited 2 months ago by RikSmits
Jack
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May 15, 2024 4:54 pm
Reply to  Maximus

Collins would be a great fit next to Sabonis. Rebounds far better than Barnes, Can defend the weakside and can stretch the floor and he is a lot younger than Barnes. Should be able to get him at a pretty low cost. IMO we should target Jalen Smith in free agency. 6’10” can play either PF or center a good rebounder and shot blocker and can protect the weakside rim. Only 23 and has not reached his ceiling.

Jack
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May 15, 2024 5:05 pm
Reply to  Jack

PS He shoots the 3 at a 40% rate. If Collins is having a bad stretch or heaven forbid gets hurt Smith would fill in right away.

Jack
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May 15, 2024 5:02 pm
Reply to  Maximus

I like Davion for Tate but have Davion included in another trade that
would bring Keldon Johnson to the Kings to play along side Fox.

Just1Ring
May 15, 2024 12:50 pm

I was more disappointed in Mike Brown’s handling of Sasha than Sasha’s play. The coaching this year tops my list of frustrations. I would love to read a Season Review on Brown, who has a lot to improve on next year, like talent evaluation, mid-game adjustments, and implementing new offensive schemes. He’s certainly not a championship caliber coach and has never been an X’s and O’s guy, but I understand the organization’s decision to not fire the COY from the previous season. Fingers crossed Brown isn’t done learning and growing.

Adamsite
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May 15, 2024 1:12 pm
Reply to  Just1Ring

The same could be said for Brown’s handling of Ellis. Keon only got the opportunity due to injures. It makes you wonder how the Kings would have performed if he had gotten those minutes, especially instead of someone like Duarte, from the beginning of the season.

I feel like Monte knew. He gave Ellis the 2-way contract right after he went undrafted, then signed him to a 3 year deal a full month before Huerter and Monk went down.

MidtownMike
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May 16, 2024 7:51 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Yup, I put vast majority of the Sasha not working out well last year on MB. His stubbornness on rotations or “his” guys held the team back from a few more wins and easily sliding into the playoffs.

Watching guys like Duarte, McGee and Edwards get so many minutes over players like Keon, Len and Sasha was very very frustrating to see.

NowLoveThemOnceAgain
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May 15, 2024 3:31 pm
Reply to  Just1Ring

You mean challenging minor plays with 8:00 to go in the first quarter and losing the challenge for when it counts isn’t something to applaud?

RikSmits
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May 16, 2024 9:43 am
Reply to  Jman1949

I’m not happy with that.

I don’t think that Brown did anything this season that made me believe that he is or can be a great coach. On the other hand, he did plenty of things that made me think that he might be no more than an okay coach.

So you had one good season and one okay season. Is that worth a $10 million a year premature extension?

i don’t mind the money, it isn’t mine and it doesn’t count against the cap. But I can see Vivek hanging on to him longer than he should if it doesn’t pan out because he doesn’t want to pay him sitting at home.

Last edited 2 months ago by RikSmits
Jman1949
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May 16, 2024 9:53 am
Reply to  RikSmits

He can eventually replace Alvin Gentry as VP of Basketball Engagement!…Is Ty Corbin’s office available?

RikSmits
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May 16, 2024 9:58 am
Reply to  Jman1949

LOL.

eddie41
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May 15, 2024 1:27 pm

grade – incomplete. partly due to injuries but also I think partly because it didn’t seem like there was a real effort to get him involved in the offense. There were many times this year when I thought the Kings needed another gunner on the court who can play with physicality to get open and drill threes. Isn’t that Sasha?

Mike120
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May 15, 2024 3:15 pm

I’m willing to give him another shot next year. You can’t improve if you’re not on the court and injuries and Brown’s rotations determined that. Let’s see what he works on over the summer and what the roster looks like. There’s a role for him, given the opportunity.

outrider
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May 15, 2024 3:49 pm

I felt he was one of the prime victims of the Mike Brown rotation void. Vez had a solid stretch of games in December and it seemed like there was a positive uptick in minutes and production, only to inexplicably fall in to the void completely for a while then reappearing in scattered minutes here and there before and after the injury.

I feel there’s more there if he’s given a chance.

Jack
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May 15, 2024 4:57 pm
Reply to  outrider

I think we ought to give him a chance.

AnybodyButBagley
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May 15, 2024 6:29 pm

The guy plays scared and it is not a surprise. He stayed home after being drafted. He tried to avoid going to the Kings after the trade. When he is on the court he has the look of a fourth grader trying to run with college players. He was “injured” for a long time without any real sign of an injury. He is now talking about underestimating the size, speed, and athleticism of NBA players. He hasn’t even attempted to play the game with any professional level of basketball IQ.

When he plays he is a catch and shoot then run away type of player. He shows no signs of being able to control the ball and the pace of the game. Opposing defenses have not seen enough of him to truly figure him out. When they do figure him out the fear factor will multiply.

Sasha didn’t want to leave his rec league dynasty. Sasha should go back to his rec league dynasty before he is replaced by the next Euro phenomenon back home.

rockbottom
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May 15, 2024 10:02 pm

\Are you aware the last 5 MVP ‘s were won by foreign born players and next couple likely as well . Sasha isn’t good enough not because he played in Europe . A lot of poor NBA players are from the USA and overrated college programs .

AnybodyButBagley
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May 16, 2024 1:46 pm
Reply to  rockbottom

Are you aware that the last 5 MVP’s are good basketball players?

I don’t care where a player came from.

Where did anyone say he isn’t good enough because he played in Europe?

Last edited 2 months ago by AnybodyButBagley
Inthestarz
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May 16, 2024 12:11 am

one dimensional without nba athleticism

Dan Houlder
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May 16, 2024 6:31 am

No matter the topic, doomers will doom and reasonable people will offer reasonable opinions.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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May 16, 2024 8:23 am
Reply to  Dan Houlder

comment image

Hobby916
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May 16, 2024 8:35 am
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AnybodyButBagley
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May 16, 2024 1:45 pm
Reply to  Dan Houlder

Why are you always such a downer?

Can you be reasonable?

aplumley
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May 16, 2024 9:06 pm

These season reviews really hit home on the King’s season. They stood pat and counted on improvements from their current roster and a meaningful contribution from Sasha. Unfortunately Barnes and Huerter regressed, and while Keegan improved he’s still not a true #3. Sabonis was incredible and I’d argue Fox was about the same if not a slight step back (which is still a solid #2). Davion didn’t do squat and Sasha didn’t meet the fan’s overblown expectations. Throw in a few more injuries and I’m surprised it only resulted in a couple of more losses and a play in. We have Keon Ellis to thank for some of that. I’m not sure where they go from here. No cap room, trade assets are pretty meh. Maybe find a diamond in the rough at #13?

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer having a playoff contender than a bottom dweller, but it’s hard to get out of the mire of mediocrity.

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