Alperen Sengun - now the most divisive player on the Rockets! Unless it’s Dylan Brooks. Or JaeSean Tate.
He shouldn’t be.
Right now there are three lenses for looking at Sengun:
His actual play.
The strange interpretation of his abilities and prospects, by some.
His future contract status.
The first thing to remember about both Sengun (and Jalen Green) is they are pretty young by third year NBA player standards. There were four players taken in the first round of the 2023 draft that were either older than Sengun, who turned 21 in July, 2023, or roughly the same age. The Thompson twins are less than one year younger than Sengun.
I believe that when considering player development, age is very important. Older players need to be more developed right away, but younger ones should be accorded the time to mature both physically and mentally. The fact that Alperen is by many accounts still growing is a sign of just how young he really is.
The second is that the Rockets, as a team, were a tire fire for Stephen Silas’ entire tenure. Whatever the cause, the effect isn’t really arguable. To put the Rockets struggles in perspective, the team over Silas’ three seasons won seven fewer games than Mike D’Antoni’s best single regular season total of 65 wins.
The point isn’t to re-litigate those years, but to point out that any success from Sengun needs to be viewed through the lens of 42 wins over two seasons.
So, how did he do?
Let’s look at two age 20 seasons on a Per36 basis:
A: 16.5pts/11.6rb/3.9ast/1.6stl/1blk/.51%FG/12.5FGA/.33%3PT/1.7 3PTA
B: 18.4/9.5rb/4.8ast/1.4stl/1.6blk/.553%FG/13.2FGA/.33%3PT/.9 3PTA
Those look pretty close, but you might well give the age 20 edge, on a terrible Rockets team, to Player B. That player is of course, Alperen Sengun, “The Homeless Man’s Jokic” as those clever wags in the Spurs broadcaster booth japed.
Whoops. Player A, when we actually go apples to apples, and equalize minutes, rather than career peak to age 20, is in fact NBA champ and MVP Nikola Jokic.
Neither player played for a good team at age 20, but Denver had enough veterans, and a better coach, to drag them to 33 wins, so the team context probably slightly favors Jokic.
I’m not saying Sengun will follow the same path. That would be crazy. They’re different players, in different situations. The dismissive comparisons with Sengun at 20, to Jokic at 27 are also crazy. In same age seasons, though, it’s pretty easy to see some real similarities.
The point being, there’s reason to believe in Sengun’s play. The early results are there.
The Perception of Sengun’s Play
My main thought here is that any definitive judgment from most players’ first two years aren’t worth much unless it’s clear that they’re either a star, or unable to play at an NBA level. Otherwise, you just don’t know.
Add to that the dumpster fire of the Rockets team over the past two seasons. Whatever the reasons for it, the smoke from burning garbage occludes clear vision.
Those are my calmly reasoned thoughts; onwards to “the narrative”.
But his defense!
Defense has certainly held Jokic back from reaching his potential, hasn’t it? (Winning a title means your defense must have been at least ok, all along. Right? Must be.)
Now, it helps to be the size and shape of an industrial refrigerator. Sengun isn’t. I’d argue however, Alpie is more athletic, and more mobile, (and now, at least an inch taller than he was!). Useful defense, given his size and intelligence, must be possible.
I believe that with the Rockets no longer using an outmoded, and unsuitable team defense, Sengun’s individual defense will look much better. It won’t look fantastic, it probably never will, but it should be playable, at worst.
We’ve seen in preseason that Sengun has played more at the level of the screen when on defense, and when the Rockets aren’t playing a completely random lineup, it looks pretty good. He can read the action well, and he’s no longer being asked to sit back and defend attackers with a free run to the basket.
Bringing accountability to all the Rockets, and not just a select few, can only help the whole team.
Somehow the talk, I suppose we can dignify it with the term “discourse” on Sengun has mainly seemed to focus on what he can’t do. This is foolish to me. What Sengun CAN do is be an offensive fulcrum of the highest level. If he can ever get a 3pt shot, he’s an all star.
Future Contract Status
In this year of a changed Rockets team, it seems that many people believe that now is some watershed moment in the careers of both Sengun and the other remaining Rocket drafted in the same year, Jalen Green. That a decision must be taken regarding Green and Sengun’s future, and the future direction of the team at the end of this season, if not well before.
This is not true.
The trend with NBA teams and some rookies, is to sign an extension after the third season, which takes effect after their fourth season. This is not in fact necessary. It’s considered good practice in terms of perhaps reducing risk to the team. It’s thought to keep the player happy, with him knowing his future earnings are secure, and knowing his team wants him around. The team has the player locked in, with no possibly acrimonious restricted free agency. While this might be desirable, there is no requirement to do so.
The NBA rookie contract is four years, and the team retains effective control of the player’s next contract through the restricted free agency mechanism. It’s possible a player might refuse this extension, and play a fifth year for what’s called a qualifying offer. In this case salary is based on draft slot, and the player becomes an unrestricted free agent after the fifth year. In practical terms, no one turns down the generational wealth typically offered in the new contract from their drafting team. The Rockets might have to pay a max price to either player, if another team produces an offer sheet at that level to the player, but that’s the worst that can happen (and you possibly get permanently disgruntled DominAyton behavior.)
All this to say, no decision is necessary this season. The Rockets are being reset, and that will take time. It won’t all happen at once. The team has been rebuilt, again, and the key future players are probably still too young. Demanding mid career performance from early career players is a recipe for frustration for all but the highest level young superstars. (And sometimes a player looks that way early, and never gets much better.)
Strong Buy. I think this is the last season Sengun stock will be cheap.
Opinion on Sengun’s Future?
This poll is closed
Future All Star
Future All NBA
Future Hall of Fame
All of The Above + Future Nobel Prize Winner
There is no qualified answer.