The Houston Rockets and executive Rafael Stone kicked off their rebuild during the 2021 NBA draft, making four first-round picks. Those picks are paying dividends early; A player they drafted in the back half of the first round is drawing comparisons to the reigning league MVP. The Rockets used their 16th overall pick on Turkish big man Alperen Sengun. He makes up for his clunkiness with his basketball savviness and unteachable skills.
Sengun comes from the Turkish Super League, a league he dominated at the age of 18. In less than 30 minutes per game, he finished second in the Superleague in points and rebounds per game, putting up 19.2 points on 65% shooting and adding 9.4 rebounds. Sengun rounded out his game by averaging 1.7 blocks and 2.5 assists. Dominating professional competition at such a young age was an excellent sign for Sengun, and the progress he has made in less than six months in the NBA is more than encouraging. Sengun’s play has drawn comparisons to reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
An Elite Playmaker Well Beyond His Years
When it comes to running down a basketball court, Alperen Sengun doesn’t look very good, but he excels in almost every aspect on the basketball court when it comes to playing basketball. At just 19, Sengun is lightyears ahead of his peers at the center position regarding his ball-handling and passing. Sengun has shown an ability to attack off the dribble from the top of the key and finish in traffic. His ball movement is contagious and should only get better as he starts playing with lineups that better fit his skills.
In this clip against the Raptors, Sengun makes a number of elite passes in just about a quarter of gametime. It should give you a good idea about the type of talent that he possesses.
For your viewing pleasure…
ALPEREN SENGUN'S PASSING HIGHLIGHTS AGAINST THE TORONTO RAPTORS: pic.twitter.com/x7JcPTNuZ3
— DGC (@Itamar_17_10) February 11, 2022
The Rockets bench unit has blown countless assists for Sengun, blowing highlights and causing him to go unnoticed. But those who are paying attention know that Alperen is making multiple highlight-worthy passes on a nightly basis.
Sengun would excel in a five-out lineup equipped with shooting, which this Rockets team severely lacks. Lineup combinations with Wood and Sengun sharing the floor haven’t proven effective. Alperen will likely be working with the bench until he’s given starter minutes or the Rockets move Christian Wood.
While playing with a bad Rockets team will cost Sengun in the assist department, it will also give him valuable experience with the ball in his hands at a young age. Instead of riding the bench for a contender, Sengun has gotten an opportunity to play. He’s emerging as one of the centerpieces of the Rockets rebuild.
Sengun projects to overtake Christian Wood and become the Rockets starting center of the future, which could happen sooner than you think. As a 19-year-old rookie, Sengun is ahead of where Nikola Jokic was at the same age. It took Jokic some time to unseat Mason Plumlee and Jusuf Nurkic in Denver, and he didn’t become the de facto starter until his third season. Likewise, it will take Sengun some time, but that time is coming.
The Rockets have been using tons of resources to develop their coveted young big. Sengun already possesses several skilled post moves, but the team sent legend Hakeem Olajuwon to work with him to add even more. He’s proving to be a fast learner. We already see him using one of Hakeem’s moves to send Zach Collins falling to the floor before throwing down a thunderous dunk less than a week after working with him.
#Rockets Alperen Sengun (@alperennsengun) is a fast-learner 👀 pic.twitter.com/iHfCOjsZGX
— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) February 5, 2022
Between his otherworldly passing ability and strong set of post moves Sengun is devastating on the low block, so much so that other teams have taken note and started double teaming the rookie.
On top of his playmaking, Sengun can offer scoring and rim protection. While he is shooting just 27% from 3, Sengun has the confidence to take them and has a decent stroke. Results should come with repetition. Despite the fact he won’t turn 20 until July, Sengun is a tough finisher around the rim, ranking top 10 in the league in poster dunks this year with eight despite limited minutes. Even though he is playing just 18 minutes a night, Sengun is averaging almost an entire block a game.
Sengun has done a great job initiating offense for the Rockets bench unit, even showing a willingness to put the ball on the floor and look for his shot.
Here Sengun again initiates his own offense off the dribble from the top of the key, but this time he hits a tough turnaround jump shot over Deandre Ayton.
The fact that Alperen Sengun is just a rookie doing stuff like this makes me so excited for what he’s going to be 5 years from now.#Rockets pic.twitter.com/NsfoYjxoKQ
— ᵂᴵᴸᴸ biased 🚀 (@BiasedHouston) February 17, 2022
Room for Improvement
I mentioned before that Sengun is clunky and awkward, and an area that he needs to improve in is his touch around the basket. Sengun is hitting just 38.5% of his shots from between 3 and 10 feet of the basket. This is a critical area for any big that wants to be heavily involved in the pick and roll.
At 19 years old, Alperen Sengun possesses some unteachable skills that should put him at the forefront of this Houston Rockets rebuild. He will blossom soon. When he does, the Rockets need to be ready to strike while the iron is hot and surround him with the right supporting cast. In addition, Sengun will surely benefit from an NBA diet and weight training. This will allow him to become a more muscular and more intimidating post player. Sengun’s base level is a player who can do a little bit of everything, making his potential so tantalizing if Houston can develop him properly.