How Alperen Şengün is proving doubters wrong

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After three days of NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, we’re beginning to notice certain players stand out from the crowd, who could be interesting names to follow during next season. 

One of those players is center Alperen Şengün who was drafted 16th overall in last month’s NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder, before getting traded to the Houston Rockets.

Let’s get into what he’s been up to.

What Şengün has done at Summer League

Over two games, the 19-year-old has averaged 18 points and 11.5 rebounds, while showing a keen knack for getting to the free throw line. Şengün is attempting 10 foul shots per game, which ranks second in the league and he’s sporting three assists per game. We’ll get back to the passing a bit later.

He’s done all this while playing just 26 minutes per game, a modest amount of floor time which strongly indicates that he will produce extensively if given the opportunity.

Şengün, who came into the league with a poor defensive reputation, has blocked eight shots so far. While that number comes off a small sample size of just 52 played minutes, it remains a positive surprise for the Rockets. Şengün has timed his blocks well, waited out his opponent and contested shots early and often. Compared to Turkey, where he played last season, he appears much more disciplined now, biding his time before he leaps and generally appearing much more in control of his own actions.

Whether the shot-blocking will continue as he progresses to the regular season in October is anybody’s guess. But should he become just moderately decent in that category, it drastically changes his career trajectory for the better.

There remain no question marks about his offense, however. Şengün is bullying himself to the basket, spinning off his defenders, catching lob passes and using the paint much to his advantage. It would appear unlikely that Şengün doesn’t live up to his potential on that end of the floor, given his tremendous touch and feel of the ball.

Turkish dominance

Şengün spent all of last season playing for Turkish powerhouse Besiktas at the age of 18. One would think that age would have mostly stapled him to the bench, but instead the big man featured heavily. This is impressive considering the Turkish league (BSL) features adult men, who usually throw around 18-year-olds like rag dolls. Instead, Şengün did the throwing.

Not only did Şengün average 19.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest – astronomical numbers for any 18-year-old, especially one playing in the best league in Turkey – but he also showed signs of incredible intuitive passing and high-percentage scoring conversion after hitting a whopping 63.2% of his shot attempts.

Şengün’s assist rate of 2.7 per game at Besiktas, while good for a center, does not do him justice. He dominated in short-roll action, finding players on cuts and open in the corners, and showed an ability to whip the ball all around the court, from wherever he found himself.

His play even awarded him with the league’s MVP award. At just 18 years old. This is practically unheard of due to the competitiveness and level of quality in that league.

Yet, despite his immense success, he still wasn’t regarded as a high lottery selection.

Why were NBA teams hesitant to draft him higher?

Teams were fearful that he couldn’t keep up athletically. That skepticism, while in some respects valid, still ignores that the game of basketball is one of skill, and not strictly athleticism.

Şengün is similar in the sense that he can keep up, but will never be the first player down the court or sport a 40-inch vertical leap. That isn’t necessarily going to hurt him, as Şengün is in the process of developing a reliable three-point shot. That means he can trail the play and spot-up for open three-point shots, thus making himself available in transition opportunities.

While in Turkey, Şengün wasn’t asked to shoot the three-pointer, despite his shooting mechanics showing no signs of an inability to do so. He was tasked with scoring near the basket, which he did at an almost unrealistic level, and scoring off offensive rebounds. This affected how NBA teams gauged his skill set, given that NBA big men nowadays are draining long three-point shots.

It’s a bit of a faulty premise given the vast amount of big men we’ve seen develop a long-distance shot over the years. Nikola Vucevic, Brook Lopez are just two examples of players who started their careers scoring close to the rim, who evolved to adding the three-point shot to their games. Why should Şengün not be able to share a similar career arc?

All things considered, Şengün has started off his NBA career by making some noise. Now it’s up to him to keep building on his game and leveling up to a point where he silences the doubters.

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