When the Houston Rockets went into the 2020-21 draft, most of the attention was on who they would draft with their second overall pick. All summer, two camps formed within Rockets Twitter. One was the Mobley mob (fans who wanted to draft Evan Mobley), and the other was the Green gang (fans who wanted to draft Jalen Green).
As we all know now, the Rockets went on to draft Jalen Green with their second overall pick, but that wasn't the only big story from the 2021 draft. The Rockets had their eye on a center from Turkey during their scouting process for the draft. The Rockets felt so confident in Alperen Sengun that they traded two future picks to Oklahoma City Thunder on draft night for Sengun. Two years later, Sengun has become one of the best players from that entire draft class.
After an up-and-down rookie season, mainly due to a lack of playing time and foul trouble, Sengun had a standout sophomore season. However, it didn't start that way, as Coach Silas went with Bruno Fernando as the starter at the beginning of the season. However, after a Fernando injury two games into the season and Sengun missed games three and four due to injury himself, Sengun started every game he played from game six to the end of the season.
After only 13 games in his rookie season, Sengun started 72 games in his second season. Sengun's numbers went up across the board.
Points per game
9.6 to 14.8
5.5 to 9
Field goal %
.474 to .553
2.6 to 3.9
Sengun became one of the best post-up players in his draft class and one of the best in the NBA. So much so that teams started to double-team Sengun as if he was an eight-year veteran, not a player in his second season. Footwork in the paint like this is a big reason why teams felt they had to get the ball out of Sengun's hands.
Sengun not only showed his excellent post skills but also that he has more athleticism than some people give him credit for, as he had several poster dunks (one that didn't count) throughout the season.
It became apparent last season that Sengun didn't back down from any player in the NBA, including LeBron James. In a January 16th matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, Alperen Sengun had the best game of his career. Sengun finished with a career-high 33 points on 14-17 from the field, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Even though the Rockets would go on to lose the game, you could tell the impact that Sengun had during the contest, as LeBron made it a point to guard Sengun. In addition, after the game, Sengun revealed something he heard on the court. Sengun revealed that he heard James tell Bryant, "I'm going to guard him," during the fourth quarter.
When the King himself wants to take on the challenge of guarding you in crunch time, you know you have arrived. LeBron wasn't the only NBA superstar to take notice. Earlier in the season then, Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant was asked during a guest appearance on #NBAHooperVision which young player he enjoyed watching, and Durant responded by mentioning Sengun.
“Dunking on a couple of people … I didn’t know he could get up like that. I like him.” Sengun has definitely left an impression on the league already.
Whats next for Alperen Sengun?
Sengun and the Rockets enter next season with increased expectations and a new direction. The Rockets did not pick up the fourth-year option on Stephen Silas contract and hired Ime Udoka as their next head coach. During the Udoka press conference, Tilman Fertitta stated that the Rockets are entering "phase 2" of their rebuild.
He went on to say phase two was the team making the playoffs. With loftier team goals, individual players must step up their game. One of the team's best players, Sengun must continue improving his game.
Sengun excels in several areas, but his shooting from 3-point range and his ability to protect the basket are two areas where he will have to improve. In addition, teams realizing how lethal Sengun was in the post made it a point to clog the paint anytime Sengun received the ball outside of the paint.
Sengun 3-point percentage did approve last season, from .248 in his rookie season to .333 in his second season, but his attempts went down from 1.6 to 0.8. Part of it was the coaching staff not encouraging him to shoot from deep, and part was Sengun not having confidence in shooting from 3-point range. As we saw in this year's Warriors and Kings playoff series having a big man who can't shoot outside the paint becomes a significant issue in a seven-game series.
The Warriors dared Sabonis to beat them from the perimeter as they sagged into the paint. Sengun next step on offense is to punish teams who try the same tactic.
Sengun will also have to continue to improve his overall defense, specifically as a help defender. Sengun will never be an elite shot blocker, but he can improve his defensive footwork and weak-side defense. If Sengun can improve his pick-and-roll defense and make sure he is in a better position in the paint, it would go a long way to the Rockets improving overall on the defensive end.
Sengun has shown all-star potential in just two seasons in the NBA. However, he has exceeded expectations and is a core piece of the Houston Rockets. With a few improvements, Sengun could become a primary reason the Rockets go from the bottom back to playoff contention.