At his worst, Alperen Sengun has looked like a rookie with a ton of potential. But when at his best, he’s been able to convince fans that he’s the potential franchise cornerstone with not his words but his play; which consists of various ball fakes, flashy passes, and a certain level of grit when battling in the paint.
All while playing just 18.8 minutes per game, which is 13th amongst rookies that have played in a minimum of 5 games.
In the defeat, he scored 5 points but also pulled down 6 rebounds and dished out 3 assists while seeing 21 minutes of action; while his single-digit stats won’t paint the picture, he was a key factor in producing an offense that looked unhinged whenever he was off the floor. If you were to take a look at the full box score, the most vital number would be five, because that’s how many fouls he finished with. Sparking the latest rendition of “Sengun should play more” vs “he isn't ready yet”.
Supporters of the more minutes for Sengun initiative share a belief with their counter-arguers, which is that oftentimes the rookie from Turkey is the most impactful player on Houston’s end of the floor. Where there’s a disconnect is that some believe that if Sengun has the energy to be on the hardwood, he needs to be on it. Of course, this doesn’t mean keep him in the game once he gets in foul trouble, but rather don’t let foul trouble get in the way of putting him in the game to create a spark.
There have been instances where the team was enjoying his on-floor presence before he picked up a foul and was pulled, oftentimes leading to their unraveling. It’s a move that’s smart if he’s able to come in down the stretch and make solid plays without being on the verge of fouling out, but is wasteful if the Rockets end up getting beat down.
Random, but this side of the debate feels like the decision-making process of tinting the windows of your car.
For those that are confused about the luxury of tint, it not only keeps the heat out but is intended to also keep out prowlers. In this sense, it feels like fans repeatedly are watching as a car gets its windows tinted but proceeds to get broken into, which then leads them to ask the question - what’s the point?
It may not be the greatest analogy, but it does make you think, right? These Rockets are rebuilding and most nights it feels like a loss is imminent, so is there any point in keeping Sengun on a tight leash in preparation for meaningful moments that may never arrive? Is there a point in putting tint on windows when we’ve seen that there’s a chance that it won’t change anything?
Meanwhile, for those that stand with Silas and his rotational strategy regarding Sengun, the car analogy is completely different. Eventually, prowlers will stop breaking through the tinted glass if there isn’t anything worth taking - so like picking up silly fouls, it wasn’t worth the risk. Through the minutes that he plays the rookie, it’s been illustrated that Silas is trying to convey a message that’s easy to understand, but tough to implement; stop fouling.
Just like that, the conversation has transferred from precaution to perception.
Bad habits become hazardous when they go uncorrected, which is why the margin for error regarding Sengun and fouling is so slim. Sure, Silas could let Sengun play heavier minutes and watch as he showcases his ability; it might turn out great. But instead, he seems to believe that he wants to engrain in the 16th overall pick’s mind that the only way to stay on the floor is by not picking up silly fouls - an approach that emphasizes availability but dampens productivity.
What’s tough is figuring out what is a fair balance between reward and punishment. When he commits fouls, he sits on the bench, but when he plays clean defense, he’s oftentimes rewarded with minutes in a game that’s already been decided due to their ongoing struggles. How equitable are garbage time minutes when things go right in comparison to a lack of minutes when they don’t?
That issue dives into a bigger one which is a team that’s struggling due to youth, injuries, and now COVID-19 - so while he needs to be on the floor more in meaningful minutes while also playing without fouling, those two things seem like a tough ask for a rookie that’s actively learning a quicker paced version of the game he grew up playing.