Rockets: Is Alperen Sengun being set up for failure?

Houston Rockets v Washington Wizards
Houston Rockets v Washington Wizards / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

Alperen Sengun's first two seasons with the Houston Rockets proved exactly why Rockets GM Rafael Stone moved up in the draft to select him. The talent is undeniable.

So much so that even some of the league's brightest stars have taken notice, as Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant and LA Clippers star forward Paul George went out of their way to give Sengun his flowers.

George even compared him to NBA legend Magic Johnson.

As a rookie, Sengun posted averages of 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 47.4 percent from the field, while also racking up 8 double-doubles in under 21 minutes per contest. Sengun bested those numbers in year two, averaging 14.8 points, 9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 55.3 percent overall, and 59.9 percent true shooting - racking up 29 double-doubles and even two triple-doubles.

But as the Turkish big man enters his third season in the league, Basketball Poetry's Mike Shearer isn't quite as optimistic about Sengun's future under new Rockets head coach Ime Udoka.

(Be sure to follow Shearer's substack, as it's a great source of quality basketball content).

Sengun appeared on Shearer's "6 players I love....but I'm worried about" and he offered the below explanation.

"Rockets’ new coach Ime Udoka might not be the best helmsman to captain Sengun’s ship.

Udoka is a tough-nosed, old-school kind of coach who loves rim protection. The Rockets were in heavy pursuit of Brook Lopez this summer
, and although it didn’t pan out, it’s pretty clear that Udoka and the front office don’t believe in Sengun as the long-term solution at center.

That is partially because the Rockets are filled with a bunch of shoot-first players. Sengun begs to be used as a playmaking hub, but the Rockets haven’t shown enough inclination to play through him. And if Sengun isn’t a focal point of the offense, his best skills are wasted.

In the grand pecking order of the Houston youth movement, Sengun is, at best, third or fourth.

I don’t know what Sengun’s ceiling is but I don’t think we’ll find it with the current Rockets’ roster and coach."

Is Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun being set up for failure?

Shearer makes some valid points, as Udoka was certainly brought in for his defense and ability to hold players accountable, which the Rockets desperately needed. Udoka and Stone know what Sengun can be and how he's best used, so I'm not as concerned about that.

That's part of why adding Fred VanVleet was better than any potential James Harden reunion, as VanVleet can play off-ball. And although the Rockets did pursue Lopez, as Shearer mentions, they ultimately didn't land him.

Meaning they're forced to give Sengun the starting center position, even if that wasn't their initial plan. Gone are the days of starting the Bruno Fernando's of the world over the talented Turkish big man, like we saw in 2022-23.

However, Sengun's lack of proficiency on the defensive end is a legitimate concern to me, especially regarding Udoka. But if Sengun is who we think he is, he'll rise to the occasion on that end of the floor and respond positively to being challenged and held accountable.

He went on-record and stated that he needs to be better in that area.

"I wanna be better defensively next year. I don't think I'm really bad on defense, but it was hard to do for me. Defense is not just one person's job; it's the whole team's job. 

It was hard and I wanna do better defensively and help my teammates to do a better job."

So although Udoka's main philosophy is Sengun's greatest weakness, I don't think it means that he won't be able to thrive in Houston.

It just means that he'll have to prove himself. Which is a good thing.