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4 reasons Alperen Sengun should start for the Rockets

Houston Rockets, Alperen Sengun

With Rockets starting center Daniel Theis sidelined due to a minor knee injury, Stephen Silas used Houston’s last preseason game as an opportunity to test out a new starting lineup. Christian Wood occupied Theis’ spot at starting center and rookie Alperen Sengun stepped in at power forward. The move wasn’t a complete surprise as Sengun had been playing very well all preseason and looked particularly good with Wood in lineups together.

“We can have Christian play some five which he hasn’t really had a chance to do much with both [Alperen Sengun] and Daniel [Theis] out there,” said Stephen Silas on his reasoning of the move. “[Sengun] playing extended minutes and playing with the starting group will give us something to look at.”

Though Houston lost 126-98 to San Antonio, Sengun took full advantage of this opportunity, tallying 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal on 55% true shooting.

“I loved it,” said Christian Wood on playing with Alperen Sengun. “He causes a lot of mismatch problems with his position. I think when he gets that switch on him, he does a great job of sealing guys. I think he just needs to find a rhythm with his jump shot, but overall, he looks great out there.”

Wood also praised Sengun’s court vision and his ability to find open teammates. Interestingly enough, Silas clarified that he just wanted to see more of Sengun and Wood together, not Sengun in the starting lineup. It doesn’t appear the coaching staff has plans to start Sengun at this time. While favoring the experienced veteran is quite common in these situations, Sengun may be the rare exception of a rookie drafted outside of the top ten that’s ready to start right away.

Let’s make the case.

1. He deserves the spot on talent alone

It may be audacious to say, but Sengun is already one of the best players on Houston’s roster already. Sure, it’s just the preseason, but his talent is just so glaring. He’s already the team’s best passer and he may be their best interior scorer after Christian Wood. Sengun’s also been better than advertised as a defender, so he’s one of the few players on the roster that will rate out in the net positive column at the end of games.

The reason Houston is going to be really bad next season is because while there are a lot of great or interesting prospects on the team, there are few good players. In addition to being a great prospect, Sengun is already one of the few good players on the roster. The Rockets are better when he’s on the floor and I recognize how crazy it is to say that about a 19-year-old, but it’s true.

2. Christian Wood is best suited to play center

If Houston didn’t get Daniel Theis at such a good contract in free agency this summer, it would be a giant head-scratcher. First, it was surprising to see the Rockets give anyone a four-year deal considering the summer of 2023 is a big cap space year for them. Also, Theis’ made little basketball sense for them in the first place.

Not only did they just draft big men in Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba, but Christian Wood is so clearly best suited to play center in the NBA. Playing him at power forward is a waste of his floor spacing and rim running ability on offense and a disaster for him defensively. It’s not a surprise Wood had his best game of the preseason when he slid down to his natural position, racking up 19 points and 19 rebounds.

3. The Rockets aren’t going to be good defensively anyways

If the idea of playing a traditional defensive center next to Christian Wood is to compensate for his porous defense, it makes very little sense. First, you’re compounding the issue of Wood’s defense by forcing him to play an even harder position defensively. He’s simply not mobile enough to stick with some of the power forwards in the NBA today.

Also, the Rockets are going to be bad defensively this season anyways. Houston has six players on the roster under the age of 22 and young players tend to be terrible defensively. Usman Garuba is one of the few exceptions to this rule, but the point still stands that they shouldn’t have an urgency to prioritize defense over development. Picking defense is always the losing side of the coin for Houston this year.

4. It’s the right developmental play

When you give rookies a lot of playing time, it accelerates their development. This isn’t a novel concept. It’s why the minor league system exists in baseball and why the G League exists in the NBA. The more time spent competing against pro-level competition under the tutelage of pro-level coaching, the more likely one is to succeed. The Rockets don’t need to be good for a few more years, so these next couple seasons should be spent prioritizing the development of their future core – of which Alperen Sengun figures to be a part of.