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1 pleasant surprise for the Rockets early in 2021-22 NBA season

Houston Rockets, NBA Season, Alperen Sengun

As much as you think you know a team before the season, there’s always one thing that will surprise you as soon as the season kicks off. This is the case for every team in the NBA, and the Houston Rockets are no exception. Their early season surprise is clearly rookie Alperen Sengun. Nobody who covers the Rockets was as high on Sengun as I was during the pre-draft process.

I wrote about how I thought he was the steal of the 2021 NBA Draft, was baffled Oklahoma City even traded him to Houston, and considered his ceiling in the NBA to be that of an All-Star. With all that being said, I never thought he would be this good in his rookie year. In fact, I speculated that it was going to be a toss-up between Usman Garuba and Sengun as to who would play in the G League this season. However, at this point, it’s pretty clear to anyone who’s been around that team that Sengun is not only good enough to receive heavy minutes for the Rockets, but good enough to start.

Alperen Sengun (per 36 minutes):

15.4 points

8.0 rebounds

4.1 steals

3.9 assists

0.8 blocks

54.1% True Shooting

After Christian Wood and Eric Gordon, it’s hard to make the case that anyone on this Rockets team is currently better than Alperen Sengun. It’s a crazy thing to say, but if you try and make a case that anyone else has been a bigger positive than Sengun, you’ll probably fail. So it’s not a question of if he deserves the starting center spot over Daniel Theis, but when Stephen Silas will eventually give it to him.

Sengun’s biggest weakness entering the NBA was his defensive versatility. And while he’ll probably never be good at defending ball handlers on the perimeter, he’s been an intelligent positional defender. As a big man in the NBA, this goes a long way towards being average on defense. He’s also averaging getting an insane amount of steals per game due to his active hands in the passing lanes – a completely unexpected development.

Where he really shines is when the Rockets put his gifted passing ability to work. The best lineups for this are when Sengun is out on the floor with Christian Wood, who’s been very adept at cutting to the basket at every opportunity Sengun has the ball. This pairing working so well together is something nobody saw coming before the season, but now that it’s hear, the Rockets are exploiting it at every opportunity they get.

“He makes the game a lot easier for me,” said Wood when asked about his chemistry with Sengun. “As soon as he has the ball, I know exactly where to be. I know he sees me the whole time.”

Sengun has just been sensational for Houston and few could have projected that he would be making a strong case to be in the starting lineup this early into his tenure with the team.