Alperen Sengun is the Houston Rockets’ Gordian Knot
Alperen Sengun needs to be unconventional to excel
The center is the position most influenced by physical traits. Height and length are a requirement, and if they’re absent, they must be made up with incredible explosion and strength. In the year 2022, nearly every team has used these traits to do the same two things; screen-and-roll and protect the rim.
Unfortunately, Alperen Sengun is not blessed with any of the physical traits usually associated with a center. He’s short for the position, 6’9, doesn’t have plus wingspan, 7’0, and his footspeed and burst are pedestrian. His physical limitations put a hard cap on his ability to make an impact playing like a conventional center.
However, Sengun was the Turkish League MVP as an 18-year-old for a reason, he is immensely talented. Outside of Nikola Jokic, no center is a more creative passer than Sengun, and he is effective at creating looks on his own.
The way to get the most out of Sengun’s talents runs counter to the way the Rockets, and most of the NBA for that matter, run their offense. In a land where the spread-pick-and-roll is king, the Rockets must find a way to unbind Alperen Sengun.
This is an example of how the Rockets’ offense is failing Sengun. Here, he receives a pass at the 3-point line. Kenyon Martin Jr. jogs to the opposite corner, opening up acres of space around the rim. Instead of movement to exploit the opening in space, everyone, except for Jalen Green running into a defender and then giving up, stands flatfooted. Sengun, left wide-open, eventually splashes a three, but at no point did the offense lean into the things he does well.
As soon as Sengun receives the ball there should be motion. He’s an audacious passer and wants to hit cutters. If it’s well-defended, it’ll create a one-on-one for him on the perimeter, where he can bully and dance his way to the paint and create havoc.
Instead, Sengun gets the ball, waits for his teammates to do something, and when they don’t, he takes a 3-pointer. The result is a fantastic outcome, but it is a clear example of how the structure of their offense isn’t leaning into his strengths.