Sacramento Kings forward and former EuroLeague MVP facing lengthy absence due to injury

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Kings forward Sasha Vezenkov is facing a lengthy absence after suffering a major injury setback last week.

The Kings were preparing to visit the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on Tuesday when the team announced that an MRI showed Vezenkov suffered a grade-3 ankle sprain during practice on Saturday. He will be reevaluated in four to six weeks.

Vezenkov had recently returned after missing seven games due to a moderate right ankle sprain suffered in a Jan. 22 win over the Atlanta Hawks. He told The Sacramento Bee on Friday the ankle was feeling better but still not 100%. In a previous interview with The Bee, Vezenkov said the initial injury turned out to be “a little more tricky than I thought.”

Vezenkov, 28, came to Sacramento last summer after signing a three-year, $20 million contract with the Kings in July. He was named the 2023 EuroLeague MVP after averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists to lead Olympiacos to the Greek League title last season.

Vezenkov is averaging 5.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game in his first NBA season. He is shooting 44.8% from the field and 38% from 3-point range.

Vezenkov has been in and out of coach Mike Brown’s rotation in Sacramento, but he has made a significant impact in a number of games. He matched his season high with 14 points in a Jan. 16 loss to the Suns. He also had 14 points with three rebounds, three steals and two assists in a Dec. 8 victory over the Suns.

Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox missed 17 games due to a grade-3 ankle sprain during the 2019-20 season. Dr. Mark Drakos, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports-related injuries, explained the severity of a grade-3 ankle sprain in a 2019 interview with The Bee.

“A grade-3 sprain means there was a tear of two of the ligaments on the outside of the ankle,” said Drakos, a foot and ankle surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “Grade 1 is a partial tear of one or both ligaments. Grade 2 is a complete tear of one and a partial tear of the other. A grade-3 sprain is the worst of the sprains. That means there was a tear of two of the ligaments on the outside of the ankle, so it’s a significant injury in terms of contributing to the overall stability of the ankle.”

A grade-3 sprain typically requires four to six weeks of recovery, but some can take longer to heal, Drakos said.

The news on Vezenkov came as Kings guard Chris Duarte was nearing a return from a right ankle sprain of his own. Duarte was listed as questionable for Tuesday’s game in Phoenix after missing the past three games.

The Kings were one of the healthiest teams in the NBA last season as they made a run to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. They haven’t been as fortunate this season with De’Aaron Fox, Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Trey Lyles, Alex Len, Keon Ellis, Vezenkov and Duarte all missing games due to injuries.