Updated: Aug 24, 2021
How Good Will He Be:
(Readers Note: “What Cards to Pick Up” is below)
The Houston Rockets have not had much to be hopeful about recently since James Harden chose to depart from the team, but the 2020 NBA Draft offered everyone rooting for the team’s success a glimpse of excitement and hope. Their draft class is highlighted by their two first-round picks. Jalen Green, the second overall pick, has the opportunity to be the NBA’s next transcendent scorer and offensive playmaker. The other selected with the sixteenth overall pick, Alperen Sengun, is a much more peculiar projection.
Alperen Sengun is a 19-year-old Turkish center that has a listed height of roughly 6 feet 9 inches, a listed wingspan of 7 feet 2 inches, and a listed weight of 240 pounds. While most first-round prospects of the 2020 draft chose more traditional paths to the NBA, such as college hoops or the G-League, Sengun decided to play in his home country for the club Beskitas of the Turkish Super League this past season. It wasn’t long before Sengun turned into an MVP-type player for the Turkish League. Sengun’s averages in his MVP season at Beskitas, his only one for the club, were 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks in around 28 minutes of play for 34 games including the playoffs.
Fast forward to the recent conclusion of summer league, and many questions about how he will fit in the NBA remain. Although Sengun may still have questions to answer, he has proven so far that he was worthy of the pick the Rockets used to select him (and possibly a higher one). In addition, Sengun has also proven that at the very least, he will be able to contribute to an NBA roster in some capacity. Below, I’ve broken down the key skills he displayed in summer league into overarching categories that I believe will be integral for his success in the NBA.
Handles and Footwork
Sengun has some of the best footwork and dribble moves of any big man from the 2020 draft. Due to a lack in athleticism, he utilizes advanced footwork and dribbling in order to score in more creative ways than the typical center, albeit he can still catch alley-oops and dunk the ball off the rebound. Here, he uses a behind the back dribble with a spin move to get by his defender and the help for a tough basket.
Plays like these can spell trouble for heavier footed centers of the league. If he can add more diversity to his drives to the basket, he will have an much easier time scoring in today's NBA,. When Sengun draws a second defender, this will also open up passing windows, which will allow for his playmaking to shine.
Sengun's passing and playmaking are two of the main traits that made him a near lottery pick. It is rare for centers to possess the type of court vision Sengun does. When he's able to draw help defense, as he did above, it creates open shooters and in turn, good looks on offense. Watch here as Sengun uses a similar dribble move and spin to the one above. He notices the defender rotating and this time rifles a pass to the open man in the corner.
Sengun's separation from the defender on previous drives created the defense to collapse to help at the rim. A sequence like this would not even be possible for most centers, or even power forwards, as they lack the ability to initiate their own offense. His ability to make reads on plays like this typify why he was evaluated and drafted as high as he was.
Another remarkable quality that was evident in the scouting process and summer league was Sengun's basketball IQ and ability to perfect the little things in order to get better looks on offense. Watch here as Sengun notices his teammate making a cut for the rim. He gives the cutter's defender a subtle hip-check/screen to create separation and flings in a nice bounce pass around his defender for an easy layup.
This play will get called occasionally due to the way he sticks his backside out, but this is a play that usually only veterans are making. This small bump created an open path to the rim and a high percentage shot. It is also worth mentioning that nearly any big man wouldn't be able to make such a pass in a similar situation.
Another example of Sengun's basketball IQ is his patience and ability to wait for plays to develop. He's the type of player that will rarely force up a shot unless under duress from the shot clock. Watch here as Sengun backs down his defender and patiently waits for a cutter to slip through for an easy jump pass and basket.
A lot of young players in a similar situation would probably opt for a fadeaway jumper or pass the ball back out. Sengun realizes there is a gap in the middle of the defense and patiently waits for one of his teammates to expose it. Sengun through his Turkish career and summer league has shown poise and composure with the ball in his hands.
Improving Shooting Touch and Three Point Shot
On the offensive side of the ball, and possibly overall, I believe shooting will be the biggest determinant on how successful Sengun's career will be. Sengun was a subpar three point shooter in the Turkish League, recording around 21% on just under one attempt per game. Fortunately, he showcased his improved ability to make the three in summer league, making 3 of 8 attempts in 4 games. Below is one of his more impressive makes from beyond the arc as the shot clock expires.
Being able to somewhat consistently hit shots from outside would be extremely beneficial for Sengun's game. The threat of being able to make three pointer or even an outside jumper will keep defenders from sagging off inside the arc, making their jobs on defense more difficult.
This will in turn make it easier for Sengun to gain separation from defenders who play close up on him or are out of position. Here, Sengun uses a pump fake from three to get Detroit's defender to bite. Having already seen him hit that shot, the defender takes a step up to defend and puts himself in bad defensive position, allowing Sengun to have an easy path to the rim
In order to keep plays like this happening for Sengun, the development of his outside jumper will be critical. He has shown more willingness to take and make those shots during the summer league, but it is a small sample size.
Summarized Player Projection
Overall, Sengun is already a savvy player who does all the little things you wouldn’t expect out of such a young player. If developed correctly, he has the opportunity to be a difference maker in Houston that will be able to space the floor with shooting as well as handle a large chunk of their playmaking responsibilities. On the extremely high side, I believe that Sengun has the future potential of a player similar to Nikola Jokic, that also lacks athleticism, but makes up for it with inside/outside offense as well as elite playmaking. I think the more realistic projection for Sengun’s future potential is a player similar to Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis possesses good handles & footwork for a big as well as improving touch from beyond the arc. The biggest similarity I see between the two players is the passing at the 4/5 position. Having a big who can pass can be an extremely important piece to any roster.
Similar to Nikola Jokic
Similar to Domantas Sabonis
What Cards to Pick Up:
As far as what Sengun cards will be the best to look at, its hard to give any definite answers at this point in time, as there have been no sets released featuring cards of the most recent draftees. When broadly looking at future cards of his that will be produced, I would say the main Sengun cards I would be looking to buy are on-card autograph cards that are numbered. Center's routinely underperform compared to guards and wings in the card market, so getting in on some of his more exclusive items will probably be the safest play for owning Sengun. He should also be able to garner some hobby interest due to his status as an international player. If you are looking for a high-end Sengun piece, then I would advise you to look at his Flawless Patch Autograph as long as the material from the patch is game-worn. I would also be on the lookout for gold parallels of high-end on-card autographs.
Best Type of Sengun Cards to Buy:
Numbered, On-Card Autographs
High-End Sengun Cards to Buy:
Flawless Patch Auto or Gold Parallels of On-Card Autographs