Alepern Şengün is the most underrated rookie in the NBA so far this year.
It’s not hard to understand the lack of coverage given that he is a bench player on the worst team in the league. But the impact he has had in his almost 19 minutes a game has been considerably noticeable every time the Rockets play.
The easiest stat to look to show the difference with and without him is net rating. When Alepern is on the court, the Rockets are 7 points better in net rating compared to when he is not. That’s the same difference that fellow center, and current Rookie of the Year favorite, Evan Mobley has put up so far this year.
His biggest strength (and where he has had the most impact) is his playmaking ability as a big man. I said pre-draft that his passing reminded me of Domantas Sabonis out of Indiana, and hat skill has translated exactly like I thought it would.
On a team without a true point guard, Şengün is the offensive hub for every possession he’s on the court. Time and again he will bend a defense and be the first of a series of passes to an open shot. And when he makes assists of his own they are always absolute dimes. The advanced stats shown below from BBall Index back up what the eyes see: Şengün’s playmaking has been elite this year.
It’s good that his playmaking has been so exceptional because his field goal percentage has been dreadful. Making less than half of his shots, Şengün has had to find other ways to contribute on the scoreboard.
He’s done that by having the 5th best percentage at drawing fouls on field-goal attempts by bigs, getting to the line on 22% of his attempts. Add that to his knack for crashing the offensive boards (74th percentile in offensive rebound talent) and Şengün has found a way to be an impact offensive player already in his rookie year.
That effort has translated over to the defensive side of the ball. While playing undersized and still learning the ropes, Şengün has shown a great ability to switch onto smaller players and challenge their shots as well as getting his hands in the passing lanes.
The graphics below show just how much he contests shots everywhere on the floor with his consistent defensive pressure. And his ability to generate turnovers by getting steals has helped offset his lack of size and typical rookie mistakes.
A lot of this is coming against the second unit of other teams so there is some context to be had. But having a player that can do this from the center position coming off the bench would be a luxury for any contending team.
While the Rockets aren’t looking to be there in the next couple years, the roster is young with a lot of talent and only more coming in the next few drafts. Adding a player of Alperen Şengün’s talent to a rebuilding team is a great foundational piece to have.
I expect him to be overshadowed by the talented rookie class around him (including his own teammate Jalen Green) but he has clearly been the second-best center in the class and is on track to make the all-rookie second team.
His floor is already enough to make his draft selection worth it and if he can expand his game a little more as he develops he might turn out to be a gem in a draft that looks to be riddled with them.