Every preseason, we have the time-honored tradition of fans and media overreacting to players going 2-for-10 from the field or their team losing by double digits while sitting everyone but the ball boy. It is no different for the Houston Rockets as they are heading into the final preseason game with a 3-1 record after falling to the Spurs on the backend of their back-to-back games in San Antonio.
Team success or failure in the preseason doesn't always translate to the regular season
When judging preseason play, you should always take it with a grain of salt. For instance, last season, the Rockets went 3-1 in preseason and looked leaps and bounds better than the previous season. They had momentum going into the 2022-23 season but proceeded to go 1-9 to start the season. Teams like Orlando and Chicago both finished last preseason with only one loss but went on not to make the playoffs.
It also goes the other way where a team struggles in the preseason and then has great regular seasons, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, who went a combined 1-10 last in the yearpreseason. There are way too many variables that go into the preseason that you don't see as often in the regular season. For instance, teams have a 15-man rotation with the expanded rosters that you see in preseason. Also, players miss games with minor ailments that would never keep them out of a regular season game.
For instance, the Rockets have had at least three different starting lineups in the four games, and the first game saw Dillon Brooks playing less than five minutes before being thrown out of the game. The point is rotations are all over the place in the preseason. This leads me to individual players being criticized for bad preseason showing—specifically Alperen Sengun of the Rockets.
Players also receive too much praise or too much criticism in the preseason
There have been good performances from players like Jabari Smith and Cam Whitmore but also underwhelming performances from players like Sengun. Dont get me wrong, a player can use an excellent preseason to take his game to the next level and have a good start to the season, but like with team success, you have to factor in certain circumstances.
As I mentioned, if a team is playing 12-15 players, four to five of those players will not be a part of the regular rotation. This can inflate a player's good performance, just like in the Summer League. It can also affect a player in a way where they struggle in the preseason.
Some players don't need a specific structure to excel on the court, while others need certain players on the court with them to make their lives easier. In Sengun case, we have seen him struggle, especially on the offensive end, which has been a surprise for a lot of people. Through four preseason games, Sengun is shooting only 29.8 percent from the field and only 11.1 from three-point range—some of his career's worst four-game stretch numbers.
Another problem with going too negative or positive about preseason besides the ever-changing lineup and vanilla game planning is that it is a small sample size of only four to five games. How many times during a season do we see even the superstars of the league go cold from the field? We see it every year, but since it is in the middle of an 82-game schedule, no one even bats an eyelash.
That is also how we should look at preseason games, specifically the Sengun 2023-24 preseason. Yes, he needs to play better, as he has looked at times out of synch and seems to be rushing his shots in the paint, but it isn't something that can't be fixed by the time the regular season rolls around on October 25th. When talking about Sengun, you have to look at the larger sample size of the previous two seasons, where he shot over 47 percent in his rookie season and over 55 percent last season.
There is nothing wrong with criticizing a player or team's bad play in exhibition games. Every game is an opportunity to improve, even if it doesn't count in the standings, but it should always be graded on a curve. At the same time, you make sure to factor in all the circumstances you will rarely see when the games actually count. Preseason should never be the time to create agendas about teams or players.