Will Sengun's weaknesses cost him a chance at superstardom?
There’s no way around it. Alperen Sengun will never be a plus one-on-one defender. He’s a 6’9 center with an average wingspan, a surprising but still mediocre vertical, and limited foot speed. No amount of basketball IQ will make up for the fact that Sengun’s physical gifts are a curse on the defensive side of the ball. However, that doesn’t mean he’s a complete and utter lost cause.
The NBA is littered with superstars who have questionable defensive impact, but they all make up for it with supernova offensive production and schemes that limit their defensive shortcomings. For all his flaws, Sengun is aggressive in passing lanes and has no fear when contesting shots.
As he matures, he should become a center that generates their defensive value by securing steals and forcing floaters. It’s a defensive strategy that usually doesn’t look good but is more effective than it appears. However, the most crucial area for Sengun to master on defense is the boards.
Why the boards will be crucial for Sengun
Nikola Jokic and Domatas Sabonis have been able to overcome some of their defensive limitations by gobbling up defensive rebounds. The pair rank second and third in defensive rebounding percentage behind another defensively limited center, Jonas Valancunas. In the modern NBA, centers who struggle to defend the perimeter or rim must be elite at capping off good defensive possessions with the ball.
Unfortunately, Sengun hasn’t been all that strong on the defensive glass. His 22.3% defensive rebounding percentage ranks 31st behind 21 centers, six power forwards, two point guards, and one small forward, and that marks an improvement from last season when he clocked in at 18.9%. Sengun does possess the strength to become a plus defensive rebounder, but his lack of length may make it difficult for him to be in the top five, which is where he’ll likely need to land to be an adequate defensive cog.
Can Sengun develop a knockdown jumper?
The final flaw in Sengun’s game is his jumper. For Sengun to be a superstar, he will need to be an elite offensive threat. His game ten feet and in is already strong, but adding a consistent 3-point threat could be the skill that makes him a nearly unstoppable offensive player. The value of running an offense through a center that can operate in the high post and beyond the three-point line is how it drags opposing centers out of the lane. Not only does this create wider driving lanes and easier rim attempts, but it also creates more passing lanes.
Right now, Sengun’s 3-point stroke is a non-entity. He’s taking 0.7 threes a game and hitting them at a 31.3% clip. He doesn’t need to become a 3-point assassin, but he needs to be reliable enough on open threes to consistently drag his defender out of the paint. The good news is that even without a credible 3-point stroke, Sengun is still a plus offensive player, but the question isn’t can he become a good player? It’s can he become a superstar?
Will Alperen Sengun become a superstar?
Alperen Sengun will go down as the steal of the 2021 draft. Players that are this productive this young almost always become high-end players. However, I do think he’ll fall short of being a top-10 player, but not by much. He’s an excellent passer, has moves for days, and is one of the most creative players in the league. That combination will lead to fantastic offense, but I worry that his lack of size and length will prevent him from becoming hyper-efficient in the post and limit his defense and rebounding.
For Sengun to become a superstar player with his defensive limitations, he’ll need to post eye-popping assist totals and be a super-efficient scorer. I’m not concerned about his passing, but I do think there are enough questions about his scoring efficiency that he’ll likely max out as a top-15 offensive player.
This is by no means a nail in the Alperen Sengun superstar coffin. He’s already so good that would be silly, but it would also be silly to confidently say an undersized center without a jumper is going to be a top-10 player. Regardless of where Sengun lands in the NBA’s hierarchy, he’s a player worth building around and should be an impact player for at least the next decade. He’ll likely make many All-Star teams and has a good shot of landing on multiple All-NBA teams, even if they’re mainly third teams. For the time being, don’t worry about what Sengun can become. Just enjoy what he is, one of the most entertaining young players in the league.