What are the chances that Alperen Sengun is the Rockets’ best player?
Alperen Sengun has long been a favorite of projection models, and it’s not hard to see why. He won the Turkish League MVP at an age when many NBA prospects are still in high school and then was a per-minute beast in the NBA when most top prospects are dominating in college. Statistical models don’t care about your measurables. They care about your production and your age relative to your competition, and Sengun checks those two boxes with a Sharpie the size of Anatolia.
At the moment, Sengun’s game is built around an elite ability to generate free throws and otherworldly passing vision and creativity. Sneakily, he was also an excellent offensive rebounder. His 10.1% offensive rebounding percentage would have been a top-20 mark if he played enough minutes to qualify. While his defensive limitations have raised the most concerns, he graded out as a capable defender as a rookie.
Sengun, on a per-36 minute basis, looked like one of the best rookies in the league. He averaged 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 47.4% shooting and a stellar 5.6 free throw attempts per game. He did average 3.5 turnovers and 5.2 fouls, but the outline of an impact player is clearly there.
Sengun isn’t a perfect player. His jump shot is limited, and he dishes as many dimes as he does turnovers. On defense, he collects a fair amount of steals and blocks but fouls too much and is unlikely to be a traditional rim protector. Even though he was excellent on the offensive glass, Sengun disappointed as a defensive rebounder, which is a problem for a player who is going to have to survive at center.
At his peak, the good is likely to outweigh the bad. Centers that can create their own shot and are elite passers have won the past four MVPs. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo is maybe the best defensive player in the league and finishes everything at the rim, while Nikola Jokic combines three-level scoring with perhaps the best passing in the entire league. Sengun is unlikely to check those boxes, but expecting any player to be a multi-time MVP is foolish.
This upcoming season, Sengun is expected to be the Rockets starting center, which should answer a lot of questions about his future. Can he survive on defense? Can he shoot enough? Will he finish around the rim well enough to be elite? Can he rein in the turnovers? And will he be a strong enough defensive rebounder to be the lone frontcourt player?
Chances are Sengun will definitively answer a few of these questions, but which ones and how will determine if he’s the Rockets' best player. If he cuts his turnovers and expands his shooting range, there’s a good chance he finishes the season as the Rockets’ most productive player.
However, it’s unlikely that the Rockets will start the season with Sengun as the focal point on offense. His talent raises the possibility that he gives them no choice, which would give him the inside track, but there are two other players who are a step ahead of him in the pecking order.