The Athletic's latest poll spells doom for Rockets' Alperen Sengun

Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers
Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Houston Rockets big man Alperen Sengun has been much better than anyone would've imagined in 2023-24. If you recall, it wasn't that long ago when the Rockets' brass sought to replace him, as they deemed it necessary to upgrade at the center position. 

Fortunately Brook Lopez unintentionally saved them from themselves, paving the way for Sengun to go bananas. The third-year big man has averaged 22 points, 9.2 rebounds, five assists, 53.8 percent from the field, 57.5 percent on two-pointers, and 59 percent true shooting.

He's especially turned it on lately, as he dropped a 37 point, 14 rebound, 6 assist statline on Saturday followed by a 24 point, 12 rebound, 10 assist triple-double against arguably the best team in basketball. 

For most, Sengun's play has etched him into one of the finalists for the Most Improved Player award, as he's on the cusp of making the All-Star team in the highly competitive Western Conference. 

Rockets star Alperen Sengun could find it difficult to make the list of finalists for the Most Improved Player award.

However, the latest poll from The Athletic tells a far different tale. Three of their senior NBA writers were asked to make their midseason picks for each award (Sam Amick, Josh Robbins, and Jon Krawczynski) and only one of them had Sengun on their ballot for Most Improved Player, which was Amick, and even he had Sengun in third behind Philadelphia 76ers star Tyrese Maxey and Atlanta Hawks rising star Jalen Johnson.

Amick explained that the "sort of improvement [he] values the most, is that jump from good player to star player", which is why he chose Maxey.

Robbins picked Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes to win the award, with Johnson and Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs coming in behind him. Robbins explained the rationale for his voting. 

"This award is designed to reward the players who made the biggest jumps in their respective games."

Sengun's jump from 14.8 points in year two to 22 points in 2023-24 seems like it would fit the bill, but let's move on to the next writer.

Krawczynski voted Chicago Bulls guard Coby White as the winner, while having Suggs and Barnes as the other two finalists. He also added that this award is one of the more difficult ones to vote on.

"This is always one of the most nebulous awards. What does Most Improved really mean? Is it a young player who has better numbers just because he gets more playing time? Is it a great player who added something to his game to become even greater?

This season, I’m rewarding two players who were barely on the map when it came to the discourse and now find themselves as crucial parts of their teams."

Based on this reasoning, it's a bit surprising that Sengun didn't make his list either, as the Rockets big man didn't receive much national discourse through his first two seasons and has now already received over a million All-Star votes. 

All in all, this is a relatively small sample size, as it's just three writers, but it does illustrate just how difficult it could be for Sengun to make the list of finalists, much less win the award. And especially if the Rockets don't make the play-in tournament, which they wouldn't make if the season ended today.