Reigning MVP Nikola Mirotic endorses Sasha Vezenkov for the 2023 award

2023-03-08T12:57:21+00:00 2023-03-09T17:59:10+00:00.

Antonis Stroggylakis

08/Mar/23 12:57

Nikola Mirotic explained why he believes Sasha Vezenkov should be the one who succeeds him as EuroLeague MVP.

By Antonis Stroggylakis/

– Nikola, I’d like to ask you some stuff about Sasha Vezenkov…

– Ah, the MVP.

That’s how Barcelona superstar Nikola Mirotic reacted when he heard Vezenkov’s name outside his team’s locker room following the away loss to Olympiacos Piraeus. He didn’t know it but he gave me one very appreciated assist to formally ask him if that reflects his overall opinion and if he truly believes that Vezenkov is this season’s EuroLeague MVP.

“Yes,” Mirotic replied to Eurohoops. “He deserves it. The way he’s been playing and the way his team is playing. No doubts. He’s the most efficient player this season.”

While several current and former EuroLeague players have shared their thoughts on the 2023 MVP debate, either when asked in interviews or by voicing their views on their social media, Mirotic, the current title holder, hadn’t really touched on the subject.

Mirotic seemed to like being asked about it. “Great question,” he said and went on analyzing his pro-Vezenkov argument. “I was hearing a lot of people saying Mike James. No doubt, Mike James is an amazing player. But you see how Vezenkov is consistent. In every game. The way he doesn’t need many dribbles. The way he’s creating. It’s impressive. For me, there are no “cheap” or “easy” points. Nothing like that exists. You have to earn it. Everything. And he’s doing it.”

James and Vezenkov are two of the most prominent names that are involved in the 2023 MVP conversation, along with players like Anadolu Efes‘ Will Clyburn and Vasilije Micic. Mirotic is productive (15.1 points, 4.5 rebounds) and Barcelona is winning, but he seems to be off the race this season since he missed the first 10 games due to injury and he doesn’t register the numbers of other MVP contenders.

As for Vezenkov, he’s currently the leading scorer in EuroLeague with 17.9 points on an outstanding 66.8 percent True Shooting, by far the highest output among the competition’s volume scorers. This includes 42.1 percent on 5.1 3-point attempts.

“He’s very smart,” Mirotic added. “He’s also the best rebounder (7.3)  in the competition which is incredible. If he continues to play this way, for me he’s going to be the MVP for sure.”

Vezenkov and Mirotic had engaged in one tough melee throughout the game in arguably one of the most anticipated matchups this season in EuroLeague: The one of the reigning MVP against the widely considered favorite to succeed him. It was also an important clash between two EuroLeague heavyweights, especially since both Olympiacos and Barcelona were coming into this round with an 18-8 record each.

Mirotic, who had missed the first-leg loss of his team at home n the season opener due to injury, was winning nearly all of his skirmishes against Vezenkov. Indeed, the Barcelona juggernaut finished with a game-high 19 points plus seven rebounds while his opponent struggled, except for the final two minutes.

Following an uncharacteristically subpar shooting night (5-16 overall) for his standards, Vezenkov drained a 3-pointer with 2:00 to play in his second touch with the ball a few moments after coming cold off the bench for the first time in the fourth quarter. He then drove to the basket and hit the floater for the 72 – 65 in a decisive sequence for the outcome. His tally was 13 points and seven boards.

When the final buzzer sounded in Peace and Friendship arena, Mirotic complimented Vezenkov for his impactful late-game actions. “I told him: ‘The MVP always shows up at the end,” Mirotic revealed about his interaction with the Olympiacos forward on the floor right after the game was over and while the two players were hugging each other. “And he [Vezenkov] said: ‘I’m learning from the MVP.'”

Gracious and candid in his praises despite the defeat, Mirotic expressed his admiration for Vezenkov’s qualities beyond the lines of the court.

“I told him to continue to work the way he’s working. To play this way,” Mirotic mentioned. “Because it’s impressive the way you see every year how he’s improving his game. That was the talk. Also, he’s amazing as a person. Amazing guy. Great locker room teammate. That’s what I’m hearing. That they are super happy with him.”

Photo: Eurokinissi