Sasha Vezenkov

Kings' Sasha Vezenkov shares honest self-assessment of NBA progress

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European phenom Sasha Vezenkov still is finding his way with the Kings as he continues to adjust to the NBA.

Through the first 17 games of the 2023-24 NBA season, the Kings rookie shared an honest self-assessment of his development thus far, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

"I'm trying," Vezenkov told reporters after Sacramento's 131-117 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. "I'm trying to study the game, study the players. I'll never be a lockdown defender, let's be honest -- but I want to be solid. I want to try to help the team and don't get exposed. And I think I'm improving every game.

"But I don't want to talk about myself when they scored 131 points, there's so much you can say. We didn't play good defense today, everybody. So we have to see where we can become better."

Vezenkov has played 14 games so far and registered two DNPs (Did Not Play). He's averaging 6.4 points on 44.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range, with 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes.

The sharpshooter, known for his quick release and 3-point efficiency, impressed his teammates early with how well he shoots the ball. But his shooting ability never was in question.

Where the concern comes in is regarding his defense and his ability to adjust to the pace of the game in the NBA. It was clear at the start of the season that he struggled in both of those areas. But with five weeks of play to now dissect and examine, the drastic improvement is hard to miss.

"It's still a work in progress. I continue to see glimpses of him playing at a high level and seeing how he can impact the game on both ends of the floor," Kings coach Mike Brown said. "It's going to take time. It's going to take time for him to adjust to the league and it's going to take time for us to adjust to him and vice versa. He's going to have good games and he may have a bad game here or there. But he is a guy that knows how to play. He wants it really bad. He works his behind off when he's out there.

"And obviously he has to be guarded on the offensive end of the floor. He does a lot of little things like rebounding and boxing guys out and trying to be in the right position to help that doesn't really show up all the time on the stat sheet. That's what can get him over the hump and get him more playing time if he continues to do that at a high level."

After registering his second DNP of the season in Sacramento's big win over the Minnesota Timberwolves last Friday to close out a six-game road trip, Vezenkov kept his head up and stayed ready.

Patience and preparation resulted in two consecutive solid performances from the reigning EuroLeague MVP.

After sitting out the entire first half of Tuesday's game against the Golden State Warriors, Vezenkov checked into the game late in the third quarter and started the fourth. His impact was almost immediate, contributing eight fourth-quarter points that helped spark momentum and fuel a comeback win after being down by as many as 24 points. Vezenkov also added four rebounds, two blocks and one assist in the final quarter.

The next day, on the second night of a back-to-back, Vezenkov strung together another solid performance on a career-best night for himself. In a season-high 24 minutes, Vezenkov dropped a career-best 13 points on an efficient 71.4-percent clip and 60 percent from deep, along with five rebounds in the loss.

Vezenkov discussed the highs and lows that come with the game, but assured he will continue to stay ready for whenever his number is called.

"The DNP's are tough for every player," he said. "It was hard for me, but the team won in Minnesota so I was happy. And I had to stay ready. We're a deep team, we have very good players and I'm just ready. I'm not saying it's easy, but you have to be ready so I'm just waiting for my chance, waiting for my opportunity to show that I can help the team."

Just like with any rookie, patience is key with Vezenkov as he continues to maneuver his way through the league.

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