Sasha Vezenkov

Why Kings are confident Sasha Vezenkov will be ‘great fit' in system

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The biggest question surrounding European phenom Sasha Vezenkov was answered in different ways during his introductory press conference Thursday in Sacramento.

How will the 6-foot-9 forward fit in the Kings’ system?

Vezenkov sat next to Kings general manager Monte McNair as the two tried to, in the simplest form, answer the question of the summer.

“You've heard me say it before about our goal, going into the offseason and continuing to build on the success that we had last year,” McNair began. “And after watching Sasha play over the years, and getting to see him live and getting to know him, I’m confident he’s going to be a great fit here and help us continue to achieve those goals. 

“He's got incredible shooting, size, IQ, just a winner. EuroLeague MVP, Greek league champion, EuroLeague No. 1 seed and finalist, so he's had a ton of success on the international stage and we're excited to see him carry that over to the NBA.”

Of course, it needs to be seen to know for sure, but Vezenkov’s fit solely basketball-wise is close to perfect with Sacramento.

Last season, the Kings ran a historically incredible offense built off pace, moving and cutting. With Domantas Sabonis or De’Aaron Fox at the helm, their non-stop moving schemes allowed for easy buckets in the paint or wide-open shots beyond the arc.

When watching film of Vezenkov with Olympiacos over the last couple of years, especially last season, the Bulgarian big man constantly moved without the ball to find ways to get open. And he would make defenders pay for giving him just the slightest amount of room with the rock in his hand.

Vezenkov referred to the Kings’ style of play as “beautiful,” and explained what he really admired while watching from thousands of miles away.

“I think the pace,” Vezenkov said. “The pace they were playing, it was incredible. Fast and strong and tough. And with this pace, they [were] winning games and the other team couldn't follow this pace. 

“Also, the movement, the passes. It’s not like a typical NBA team. And that's like back in Europe, because we don't watch too many NBA games. This specific team, the Sacramento Kings, last year played really beautiful, the style I like and I like to watch.”

Shooting was another key component that separated Sacramento’s offense from other NBA teams. The Kings averaged 120.7 points per game last season – the best in the league.

The system allowed Keegan Murray to shine as a rookie and unlock his elite 3-point shooting, breaking the NBA rookie 3-point record along the way.

And if Mike Brown choosing Terence Davis’ offense over Davion Mitchell’s defense in the biggest game of the season doesn’t tell you just how much this team depends on its shooting, we're not sure what will.

But that’s another part of Vezenkov’s game that should fit right in with the Kings. He’s an extremely efficient catch-and-shoot scorer who has shot 40 percent from deep and 63 percent from inside the arc over the course of his eight-year career. Read that again. Those are not his shooting splits from a single game or a single season. He’s a career 40 percent 3-point shooter and 63 percent 2-point shooter.

It’s hard to imagine Brown isn’t licking his lips drawing plays for Vezenkov and the rest of the sharpshooters on the team. And he won’t have to wait long to put his plays into action, as the Kings report to training camp on Oct. 2.

“I think coach will see how he will fit me in the team,” Vezenkov said. “I will continue to work on my game [and] try to improve. … I'm really focusing [on] training camp and on the first games. I want to show that I can play with these players that I saw only on TV. 

“So I'm really happy and excited about the opportunity. And as I said, I see the opportunity. So that's why I'm here. I think I can help the team and that's why I'm here to grab it.”

Vezenkov left Europe as the greatest player on the continent, but none of that matters as he enters a new journey in the NBA against the game’s greatest players.

While what happened overseas stays overseas, Vezenkov has confidence his EuroLeague experience will help with his transition into the NBA.

“It's a totally different game, I understand that,” Vezenkov said. “But the coaching staff and the players will help me adjust as fast as possible to this new game. But from the other hand, it’s basketball. It's five-on-five. 

“For sure here, the athleticism is more. But I can fit in this team. I can help this team and that's why I'm here, to fight every day, work hard every day and the only thing I care [about] is the team.”

Vezenkov has dreamt about playing in the NBA all his life, and that dream will become a reality in a few weeks. 

He acknowledged that he might experience a little bit of nerves during the first couple of games, but given his experience, age and what he’s accomplished in Europe, he believes he’s fully prepared for what’s thrown at him in the NBA.

“I'm ready,” he said. “I’m 28 years old. I have the experience. NBA is a totally different league but I have to adjust mentally first and then physically to be ready to help the team. I'm here. Of course, every beginning is a little bit tough. My first game for sure will be nerves. But as the time goes by, I'll feel better and better.”

Vezenkov will enter the NBA as a 28-year-old rookie. It's an unusual situation because he's not an ordinary rookie coming out of college. McNair recognized the unique situation, but said Vezenkov's experience and Brown's coaching give him reassurance that he will fit right in.

The Kings are bracing for a new season with new expectations, and by their side will be a new player whom they hope can help fulfill their goals and climb to the NBA mountaintop.

As the Kings look to open a new chapter next season, Vezenkov will be turning to the first page of his NBA journey. Together, they hope to contribute to Sacramento's newfound success and make sure it is here to stay.

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