Trading multiple first-round picks is one of the riskier things you can do in the NBA. Most of the time, teams only do it in exchange for superstar players. So when the Houston Rockets traded two future first-round picks to acquire the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, it projected a high degree of confidence in the player they were about to select. The Rockets went on to draft 19-year-old Alperen Sengun, MVP of the Basketball Super League in Turkey – widely considered to be one of the strongest basketball leagues in the world.

Sengun was one of the most polarizing talents of the draft this year. Some teams had Sengun as a top seven talent on their board and some had him outside of the lottery. By executing this trade, both Oklahoma City and Houston showed their hands on where they both stood on Sengun. It also quickly came out that the Rockets thought he fell too far on draft night and were pleasantly surprised they were able to get him where they did.

There was never a question that Sengun was one of the most talented players in this draft class. It was always about whether or not that talent was translatable at a high level to the NBA. Sengun is known for being extremely skilled with his back to the basket and many believe post-play doesn't have a home anymore in the NBA. While it's true that teams generally don't run many actions through bigs like Sengun, this line of thinking neglects two things:

  1. Post-ups aren't dead, but it is true that one must be very efficient at them to justify touches.
  2. Alperen Sengun is much more than just a post-up big man.

It would be naive to say that teams, like the Rockets, run a healthy amount of their offense through the post in 2021. However, if you're one of the rare big men that scores near one point per possession or more per touch, you will still have a place in the modern NBA. Here are some examples of players that regularly command post touches:

Joel Embiid – 12.3 post ups per game – 1.08 points per possession

Nikola Vucevic – 11.0 post ups per game – 1.01 points per possession

Nikola Jokic – 9.3 post ups per game – 1.04 points per possession

Anthony Davis – 9.2 post ups per game – 0.99 points per possession

Karl-Anthony Towns – 8.3 post ups per game – 0.88 points per possession

The barrier to entry of a post-up being worth it seems to be a point per possession. If you can't regularly hover around that mark, then it's true that post-ups aren't an efficient use of an NBA possession. (Of note: Last season was a down year for Karl-Anthony Towns. He's normally firmly in that territory.) The ideal version of Alperen Sengun will likely also be one of those rare exceptions.

The Rockets rookie's footwork and touch around the basket are pretty amazing. In addition to having a deep bag of post moves that include various up-fakes, spins, and pivots, he is an absolute foul magnet. Sengun scored 5.1 of his 19.2 points per game in the BSL at the free-throw line and he did so at an 81.2% clip. Getting to the free-throw line is a signature that all the best post-up bigs in the NBA have that allows them to be efficient.

As stated before, it's also naive to place Sengun in a box on offense. Aside from the efficient post-scoring, he has all the traits to thrive in a modern NBA as a big man for the Rockets. Something that doesn't get talked about enough with Sengun is how good of a screen and dive man he was in Turkey.

In addition to the touch Sengun has around the rim, he can also surprise you with an occasional dunk when he has a runway on pick and rolls. If Sengun develops chemistry with a guard with a lot of gravity, the efficiency on pick and rolls could be pretty great. Imagining someone like Rockets youngster Kevin Porter Jr. in this spot is pretty natural as he's got a knack for playmaking.

Sengun also has some special playmaking chops for a big man. Some of the reads he makes out of both the high and low post are pretty advanced and indicates he could be a mini-offensive hub, perhaps as a second unit leader. Rockets fans got to see some of it at Summer League, but Sengun regularly finds cutters and has a good feel for where his teammates are on the court at all times. It's just instinctual for him.

Because Sengun hits free throws at such a high clip, it's not hard to envision him someday also becoming a floor spacer. He's certainly not shy about attempting threes, which is a big first step. This is why a brief stint in the G League may make sense for him. The Rockets just need him to get to a point where he's comfortable attempting two or three shots from downtown every night. Once he gets to that point, Sengun can be a jack of all trades for Houston offensively.

Defensively, Sengun surprised a lot of people by how average he looked in Summer League. He kept verticality, met defenders at the rim, and stayed physical. However, at 6-foot-9, Sengun is a bit undersized compared to most NBA centers. Figuring out his natural position in the NBA will be the first step and then what kinds of players pair best with him. Usman Garuba makes a lot of sense slotted in at power forward next to Sengun, but Garuba still needs to become a floor spacer himself.

It's all a work in progress, but the Rockets definitely found someone with exciting upside and a high floor. Houston can afford to take their time with Sengun as he learns the language, the schemes Houston likes to play, and gets comfortable as a shooter. It's worth noting the protections on the picks Houston sent out.

Detroit pick:

2022: Top 16 protected

2023: Top 18 protected

2024: Top 18 protected

2025: Top 13 protected

2026: Top 11 protected

2027: Top 9 protected

2nd round pick in 2027 if the pick doesn't convey

Washington pick:

2023: Top 14 protected

2024: Top 12 protected

2025: Top 10 protected

2026: Top 8 protected

2nd round pick in 2026 and 2027


The protections make it really difficult to predict when these will convey so they're both essentially mystery boxes. They could be lottery picks and they could be late first-rounders or second-rounders. Oklahoma City is betting on the latter and the Rockets are better that Sengun is talented enough to make the bet worth it. His impressive skill level combined with his encouraging Summer League performance definitely leaves the window open for Houston winning that bet. It'll be interesting to see the kind of rookie campaign Sengun can put on.