Denis Zakharov Turning Heads Around The League

Denis Zakharov expected to play at Dynamo Moscow this season, but financial problems forced the club to drop out of the Superleague, making the 22-year-old Russian guard a free agent in October.

The shocking news turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While many of his teammates struggled to find new clubs, Zakharov hit the jackpot with Enisey Krasnoyarsk.

Konstantin Kucher analyzes Zakharov's excellent start in the VTB United League for Breaking It Down.

Zakharov didn't just sign a contract with a VTB United League team; he also found the perfect coach for this stage in his career. Enisey's Oleg Okulov worked in the Superleague last season and knew first-hand about Zakharov's potential. When the opportunity arose to bring him to Krasnoyarsk, Okulov wasted no time getting a deal done.

The trust of the coaching staff made for a smooth transition. After just a few games, Zakharov had played his way into the starting lineup and become one of the team's most important players. He's averaged 15 ppg over the last four games and ranks 4th on offense among Russian players in the VTB United League.

Zakharov can hurt an opposing defense several different ways. Let's look at what makes him such an effective player on offense.

Zakharov is one of the quickest players in the league at his position. He's extremely effective in fast-break situations. He also likes to attack early in the shot clock, before the defense has time to get set up.

Dribble Drive
He can score by driving to the basket. Zakharov is not afraid of contact and has no fear attacking the basket. Thanks to his ball-handling and body control, Zakharov can easily get by defenders and get an open look at the basket.

Jump Shot
He can also shoot the ball. Zakharov is equally dangerous off the ball and when creating his own shot. Coupled with the dribble drive, he's extremely tough to defend. 

Among Russians who have played in at least half of the VTB United League games this season and taken a minimum of seven field-goal attempts per game, Zakharov has the best shooting percentage.

Making a cut without the ball
Enisey takes full advantage of Zakharov's skill set, using a combination of screens and cuts to get him open looks from outside. Here's how it works.

Zakharov cuts hard from the baseline to the perimeter, wrapping tight around one of Enisey's big men on his path to the arc. 

As Zakharov passes his teammate, the big man sets a screen, slowing down the pursuing defender.

Free of his defender, Zakharov gets to his spot beyond the arc, where he receives the pass for an open look at the basket.

Zakharov is also very good at getting open even in limited space. Watch how easy he makes it look in a recent game against Nizhny Novgorod.

Zakharov's primary role is to score points. But he's not bad at passing the ball. In fact, Zakharov ranks third among Russian players in assist to turnover ratio, ahead of Anton Ponkrashov, Ivan Strebkov and Artem Vikhrov. 

Nonetheless, he's most focused on scoring the ball and rattling the defense. When Zakharov does get an assist, it's generally after driving to the hoop and drawing extra defenders, which gives him a chance to find an open teammate.

Denis Zakharov has been one of the biggest surprises of the VTB United League season.

He's a multi-skilled player on offense who's not afraid to take a big shot and step up in the clutch. During the summer, he'll likely be added to the Russian national team's preliminary roster and may even make the team. Let's hope that he doesn't rest on his laurels and continues to improve.

Konstantin Kucher