Alperen Sengun, the 2021 Turkish league MVP, was a surprise pick by the Houston Rockets in the 2021 draft. The first reason it was a surprise was the Rockets didn't have the 16th pick going into the draft, and another reason it was a surprise was no one knew a lot about Sengun at the time.
From the moment Sengun arrived in Houston, he has been a fan favorite. From his first interview, he has endeared himself to Rockets fans. That didn't change when Summer League rolled around as Sengun showcased his high basketball IQ and an excellent feel for the game.
Sengun was one of the standouts in the Summer League, and that has continued into the preseason. Even with him missing some of the training camp with an illness, Sengun has been one of the best players so far in the Rockets’ first three preseason games.
The Rockets have started Daniel Theis in the first three preseason games to mixed results. Theis is a solid veteran who can help the Rockets in certain situations, but there may be a better option overall. That option is Alperen Sengun.
Why Sengun maybe starting sooner rather than later
Before Summer League play started, there was talk that Sengun may spend some time in the G League to get consistent playing time. The more the Rockets and their fans see Sengun on the court, this seems less likely each day.
As mentioned earlier, Theis has been the starter so far this year, but some of his limitations have shown in the first three games. Theis is a solid defender and a good roll man to the basket, but his outside shooting and playmaking aren’t exactly strengths.
Sengun has shown in his limited time on the court that he has excellent court vision and seems to read the play a second or two faster than most players. For instance, last night, Sengun came to set a pick and instantly saw that the Raptors defenders were double-teaming the ball, so Sengun slipped the pick-and-roll to the basket for an easy layup.
This may not seem like a big deal, but being a second or two faster than your defenders makes a huge difference. His passing is already NBA-ready, and at this point, he may be the best passer on the team. When he is in the game, the offense is smoother and less stagnant. The Rockets trailed early, and soon as Sengun entered the game, the Rockets went on a run. Sengun's scoring has improved in every game in three preseason games, even though he still hasn't played 20 minutes in any game.
It's not a coincidence that because Sengun makes everyone around him better, he never seems to be out of position, and his high/low passing ability would help Christian Wood by taking the ball out of his hand at the perimeter and letting him be more of a roll man on offense. It also takes the pressure off Kevin Porter Jr., who wouldn't have to be the only playmaker in the starting lineup.
Moving Sengun into the starting lineup at some point this year will help young players like Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, who are still trying to build chemistry in the backcourt.
There are areas Sengun still needs to improve on.
With any young player, even one as seasoned as Sengun, there are areas to improve on. Sengun will have to become a better shooter from three-point range. Teams will start to play off him in pick-and-rolls and force him to make outside shots. The encouraging part is that Sengun is a good free-throw shooter. This tends to lead to better shooting from the outside as players' careers go on.
Sengun will also have to continue to get stronger if he eventually becomes the starter. The one area that is lacking for Sengun is on the defensive end. The good thing is that Sengun plays good position defense. He will never be an elite defender like Draymond Green or Rudy Gobert, but he can stay in front of his man and not foul unnecessarily. Once he gets stronger and able to hold his ground, he at least won't be a negative defender.
The Rockets are a rebuilding team and, at least for this year, have the luxury of experimenting with their roster and lineups. Sengun may not start immediately, but the writing is on the wall (not that Wall), and his skills will fit better with the Rockets’ young starters as the season goes on. Who would have imagined this just two months ago, but Sengun will be starting sooner rather than later.