He was already the favourite for MVP before Game 1 but Sasha Vezenkov carried himself like one in the victory for Olympiacos over Fenerbahce
The stats were nice, they tend to be with players that impress, but it was how Sasha Vezenkov carried himself through a well-earned win on Wednesday that really showed the level he has ascended to over the past couple of seasons.
Honestly, at one point in the third quarter I was expecting a shrug like Jordan in 1992. Vezenkov looked to be playing a different sport to those around them yet, and this is what jumped out, it wasn’t because had some kind of turbo boost that no-one else did.
The dude has just got style
Ballers come in different shapes, sizes, and styles. Mike James brings fury with his drives, Vassilis Spanoulis seemed to exist for that boom gotcha moment, but Vezenkov has a chill that he keeps in his demeanour until the right time to let out the fury comes.
We saw that through the first half, where he was neatly contributing, and even in his half-time interview where he was so relaxed that you’d forget the stakes. Then came the third quarter where he had his mini-takeover and only when he knew, a few big contributions in, that it was time did he let out a roar to fire up the crowd.
The rest of the time it was just cold focus without a care in the world on his face. He went about his business in a game of enormous importance unphased and that’s the style a MVP calibre player really brings. James has it, Spanoulis certainly did, Dimitris Diamantidis, and even Jan Vesely at his peak, all had that look of complete calm. A player only has this when they know within themselves that they have more control over what goes on around them than any other individual they share the floor with and that makes Vezenkov special.
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So about the MVP thing
A slight digression from tonight’s game. I’ve already cast my vote for Euroleague Most Valuable Player and I think you should have already as well but I won’t judge you if you haven’t. To me, especially with a full 34 game slate where everybody plays everybody twice, it should be a regular season award and only a regular season award.
The playoffs matter as their own beast in their own right, they exist to decide who gets to the Final Four. They’re not about deciding MVP yet still the voting runs until they are done. Nope. 10 teams are gone, admittedly 10 teams unlikely to deliver a MVP, before they begin but they’re all sets of series and not a case of everyone playing everyone again. Nope, I don’t like it, regular season only. Rant over. Back to the big guy, who by the way I voted for as MVP.
It was only a mini-takeover and that’s a good thing
This wasn’t some 2K style game of one-man domination from Vezenkov. He was clearly the best player on the floor throughout and his contribution of 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, if anything, understated his impact but he rarely had to go god mode and that’s very good for Olympiacos.
The Reds had players stepping up in multiple ways at multiple times. Moustapha Fall looks far more comfortable and assured of himself in the red of Olympiacos than I’ve ever seen him in a France jersey, Isaiah Canaan stepped up big time in this game, and Kostas Sloukas remains the best closer in the Euroleague today.
Vezenkov is part of a stacked roster, yes, but also one that real gels well together and can adapt how it operates to suit the occasion and threat before them. Only the London 2013 edition of Oly compare for pure watchability under Bartzokas and that’s not shabby because Bartzokas tends to coach some extremely watchable teams for neutrals.
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So what’s next
Game 2 on Friday must surely bring more physicality from Fenerbahce on Vezenkov because they certainly didn’t find a way to bully him on Wednesday. Fener only fouled him once all night, that’s a star player, THE star player, on his home court and the refs didn’t feel the need to call any more whistles than that. Granted, Vezenkov has only drawn 2.8 per game on average (extremely low for a star) but in the post-season it’s just normal to expect the batterings to come.
Now it’s not like beating up Vezenkov solves all of Fenerbahce’s problems, indeed the risk of focusing on him is that it creates so many more opportunities for Olympiacos, but it just seems implausible that Fener will not do something to try and rattle the big guy on Friday night.
Still, that’s another night to come and for now we can sit back and acknowledge that Vezenkov is just doing things his way and his way works.
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