“Next summer is ten months away,” reigning Greek League MVP Sasha Vezenkov told reporters last September at EuroBasket in reference to potentially signing an NBA contract with the Kings. Now that opportunity is less than two months away.
The prospect of Vezenkov joining Sacramento next season has understandably been a hot topic early in this offseason, especially with head coach Mike Brown having just been in Greece to watch Olympiacos in a deciding game five in the first round of the EuroLeague playoffs.
Vezenkov’s rights were acquired from the Cavaliers for a second round pick just ahead of last year’s draft, and based on Brown’s most recent assessment, things might be shaping up for his move to the NBA.
“The way we play, he fits in really good,” Sac’s head coach told a Greek reporter following Olympiacos’ game five victory. “He shoots the three ball. He’s got size. He’s got toughness. He rebounds. All those things are exciting with the way we play the game of basketball, so we’ll let him finish out his season, and then we’ll make decisions from there.”
As a candidate for the EuroLeague MVP, Vezenkov averaged 17.2 points on 65.4% from the field and 38.5% from deep (on more than 5 attempts) to go along with 6.8 rebounds in about 29 minutes per game.
It’s worth noting that a good portion of former EuroLeague MVP’s have carved out solid roles in the NBA, such as Nemanja Bjelica and Andrei Kirilenko. Of course, probably most notable of that bunch is Luka Doncic.
Even after signing an extension within the last year, the probability that he joins the Kings appears to be high, though nobody will know for sure until some time has passed following the playoffs.
Perhaps it’s not considered as probable, but it’s also likely that Vezenkov could replace Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup. He’s certainly capable of it.
Barnes is a free agent this summer. He had a good year for Sacramento as a stabilizing figure that did a little bit of everything for the young team. However, with the eleven-year vet turning 31 at the end of the month and following an underwhelming playoff series, it’s uncertain whether he’ll be back next season.
The experience and presence of Harrison Barnes would be impossible for Vezenkov to replicate, but in terms of what he offers on the floor, there does not seem to be that much of a contrast.
Regarding shooting, work on the glass, and feel for the game, Vezenkov possesses skills that may very well equate to those of Barnes.
It might be a bit premature to say this about a guy who has yet to play in the NBA, but Vezenkov may actually be a better shooter than Barnes. With his range, he’s lethal out of the split action, not only capable of nailing some of the toughest shots, but also able to get the ball up and out quickly, which make borderline circus shots a constant reality. Predictably, he’s just as dangerous inside the perimeter. And just look at the pressure and attention he gets; it’s something that would help the spacing for the likes of Fox, Sabonis, and Malik Monk.
Also, with tons of experience in what is a more physical game over in Europe, Vezenkov is predisposed to crashing the glass, getting a body on a guy, and making a play for the ball. His 6’9″, 225 lb. frame assists with that.
Mike Brown has referred to him as a “smart” player and he definitely has a good feel for the game of basketball. It’s visible here in both his consciousness of pushing the pace and making the necessary extra pass. Similarly, he’s a willing screener in spite of being an MVP caliber player at his level, demonstrating his openness to play a variety of roles. Not to mention he’s fearless, which is something Brown says he loves about him, and it’s illustrated here as he remained decisive and unafraid, forcing the opponent to convert a very difficult shot.
Back when Mike Brown visited Germany to see Vezenkov at EuroBasket, he said the left-handed Bulgarian is “a power forward.”
That would require Keegan Murray to formally become the small forward, but in a way, Murray kind of played the 3 anyways as Barnes would frequently have the defensive assignment of guarding the opposing team’s 4. And coach Brown said during training camp that “our 2, 3, and 4 are all the same” position.
Furthermore, back when he called Vezenkov “a power forward” he acknowledged the “positionless” nature of the offensive end and noted that such specific positional classification has more to do with what kind of player one can “mark” on defense.
Of course, Murray would have to make some progress in his perimeter defense, but that’s not out of the question given his ability to show consistent growth in a variety of areas throughout his rookie season.
It’s unlikely to excite Kings fans to hear that Vezenkov could replace Barnes, especially when the idea of signing a player like Jerami Grant or trading for one like OG Anunoby has been so widely discussed. But Vezenkov would be a more economically advantageous option compared to such players, allowing them to add sufficient depth.
It’s also unlikely this is atop the wish list of the front office, but it is a viable option nonetheless.
The Kings have a variety of different directions they can choose to move towards this offseason in terms of their starting lineup, and Sasha Vezenkov is a potential solution.