NBA Draft

Houston Rockets Rookie Alperen Sengun

Every so often, an Alperen Sengun highlight goes viral, and the world gets a glimpse at the absurdly fun, incredibly unique style of the center from Turkey. It happened a few weeks ago and I immediately decided that Sengun would be the focus of the next Rookie Spotlight. 

Before you watch the highlight, just remember that Sengun is 6-10, 243 pounds and 19 years old. Okay, roll it…

His game is a captivating mix of old school and new school. Yes, he likes to post up and that type of basketball has largely become extinct in the pace-and-space era; but he also has the vision and savvy playmaking ability that today’s teams desire out of their big men (think Nikola Jokic, Domantas Sabonis or Draymond Green). He combines physicality and grace; bully ball and finesse; strength and a soft touch; production and flair.

Before coming to the NBA, Sengun was the 2020-21 MVP of the Turkish Basketball Super League, averaging 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals. Houston traded a pair of future first-rounders for the 16th overall pick in the 2021 Draft so they could take him. “He’s unique. He doesn’t really play like anybody,” Rockets general manager Rafael Stone told the media afterwards. “But having said that—that he doesn’t really have a game that looks like anyone else’s—he’s a good basketball player. He’s a skilled basketball player. He’s not just somebody who does one thing. He does a lot of really interesting things. And so, we think he potentially has a chance to be special.”

Sengun’s development was projected to take time, especially given the drastic differences between the game in Turkey and the NBA. But, of course, the Rockets are in no rush. The full rebuild is on, and Sengun is expected to be one of the centerpieces of it. 

Here’s the thing, though: Sengun is really good already. It’s not just the occasional viral clip—the numbers tell the same story. As of this writing, Sengun is averaging 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in merely 18.4 minutes per game. Per 36, that’s 17.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists—not to mention 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks. He put up 15/6/6 and three blocks in a game against the Grizzlies in mid-December. A few days later, he dropped 19/11/5 against the Cavaliers.

At times throughout the season, Houston’s offense has looked significantly better with Sengun on the floor. He scores efficiently, shares the ball and creates for others. Some of his assists, like the one above and the one below, seem impossible until he makes them.

Head coach Stephen Silas has also given him more opportunities to work on the post, seeing how Sengun has thrived there. His footwork is extremely advanced for his age (check the spin) and he finishes nicely with both hands. As he told Kelly Iko of The Athletic, the rookie is planning to train with Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon in the near future, picking up more moves for his arsenal. 

“Obviously we’ve been posting up a lot more than I had anticipated,” Silas said, via The Athletic. “And the more I see [Sengun] do, the more I give him. He likes the ball on the left block, and I’ve been giving it to him on the right block, and he’s been successful. We’ve been running after-timeout plays for him to catch it in the post, whether it’s a cross-screen or rip or whatever. I’m going back to my old playbook with Elden Campbell and Jamal Mashburn and those guys, posting those guys up. I had not anticipated playing as much post-up basketball as we are, and he’s earned it.”

Going forward, Sengun needs to improve as a perimeter shooter (so far, he’s shooting just 31 percent from three) and on the defensive end, where he fouls too much (averaging 6.0 per 36 minutes) and the Rockets have struggled overall with him in the game. A lot of that will come with experience, reps and getting increasingly accustomed to the speed of the NBA. Though the highlights regularly circulating on social media can be deceiving, he’s still just a 19-year-old rook.

Speaking of those highlights, a couple more for you…

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