Alperen Sengun is one of the most fascinating prospects in the draft, as he won Turkish League MVP at age 18 and stuffed the stat sheet in every way conceivable. Turkey has one of the best professional leagues in Europe, and the past 4 MVP winners were all NBA players at a prime age in their mid-late 20’s: Shane Larkin, Brad Wanamaker, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Gigi Datome. Yet Sengun did it while being more than a full year younger than Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.
And he wasn’t just MVP by being a one dimensional post up player and gobbling rebounds– he also was a good passer with more assists than turnovers, made 79.4% FT, and had a better steal rate than Cade Cunningham and a better block rate than Kai Jones. Based on his #’s, he appears to be an elite all round player who should be the runaway choice for #1 overall in the draft.
But he is nowhere near that conversation for valid reasons, currently projected at #16 in ESPN’s mock. He is undersized for a center at 6’10” with a ~7’1″ wingspan, and is not particularly quick or explosive to guard the perimeter, and there are major question marks how he will fit into an NBA defense. And even if he is passable in the regular season, will he get hunted and played off the floor in the playoffs?
It is also difficult to gauge how much value to place on his elite interior scoring. He shot at staggering 67.4% inside the arc on 26.7% usage, but it is worth pondering how well that will translate vs bigger and stronger NBA bigs. And even if he is effective, how badly do NBA teams want to run the offense through the low post given all of the turnovers and time consumption that comes with feeding the post.
Sengun has one clear and obvious comp, and that player is Kevin Love. Let’s compare Sengun’s Turkish performance to Love at UCLA:
Right off the bat you can see how special Sengun is– at nearly a year younger in a better league, he was slightly more impressive across the board with better scoring efficiency and assist to turnover ratio. And what is really juicy is his huge advantage in steal rate– perhaps this indicates some subtle cerebral or athletic advantage that will enable him to be better than Love on defense.
Sengun also likely has slightly better dimensions. There are no official measurements on him, but the most common ones say that he is about 0.5″ taller than Love with ~1.5″ more wingspan, and he is young enough such that he may not be done growing, or may have grown since his last measurements.
Love was a better 3 point shooter in college, making 35.4% on 2.1 3PA per game vs Sengun 20% on 1 3PA per game. Sengun was better on FT% making 79.4% vs 76.7% while also being younger, so it is not clear whether he will be a better or worse NBA shooter than Love.
What is clear is that if they were in the same draft, Sengun should get picked before Love. And it’s not like Love wildly overachieved in the NBA– he crushed stat models and was the 5th overall choice. So there is no clear reason to expect Sengun to be worse than Love in the NBA on average.
The trouble is that it is incredibly difficult to evaluate Love, as he ranged from posting insanely good stats for a terrible Minnesota team to solidly good stats starting for a championship team in Cleveland. He did have issues staying on the floor in the playoffs at times for the Cavaliers, so his box score production cannot be taken at face value. But he also was a 5 time all-star and an NBA champion, and cannot be devalued too aggressively for his flaws.
Sengun is currently projected to go #16 overall. If we knew for a fact that he would be the next Kevin Love, is it actually reasonable to let him slide out of the lottery?
And if he overperforms Love’s NBA career to the extent he overperformed pre-draft, and is a slightly better shot maker, passer, and defensive player, is that not an immensely valuable NBA player?
Love is clearly his top comp. The next closest one is based on postup PF archetype is Domantis Sabonis:
Sengun also had a better FT%, 3PA rate, and FT rate (0.61 vs 0.51) and 2″ more wingspan while being more than a full year younger. Sabonis is nowhere near the same league as Sengun as a prospect.
Sabonis is another guy who is tricky to evaluate, as he is a 2x all-star but it is unclear what value his bruising offense and defensive limitations will provide in the playoffs. But being massively better than a regular season all-star at the same age is a good start, as it is not clear precisely how much value these PF’s lose in the playoffs.
Now we are veering to a slightly different archetype, but just for fun let’s compare him to some fat kid from Serbia who slid to round 2:
Jokic is a true center at 6’11” with a longer wingspan at 7’3″ which makes this comp a little weird. But he was 5 months older than Sengun, playing in the slightly weaker Adriatic League, and gets largely dwarfed by Sengun. Sengun also crushes him at FT rate (0.61 vs 0.19) and FT% (79.4% vs 65.6%). Joker was taking more than 3x the 3PA and making 31.5%, but collectively Sengun was the better shot creator, shot maker, rebounder, and defensive play maker.
And he even had a slightly higher assist rate than the best passing big of all time! Joker had a better assist:TOV, but this was in part due to his lower usage so let’s not rule out the possibility that Sengun becomes an elite passer that completely picks apart opposing defenses.
It’s difficult to say how good Jokic would be with PF dimensions, but he would still certainly be valuable. And Sengun is so young with such dicey measurements, what if he grows another inch and peaks at say 6’11” with 7’2″ wingspan? Are we safe from ruling him out from being a future MVP? Probably not!
The Funniest Comp in the History of Comps
It’s easy to get focused on the fact that Cade Cunningham fits a better mold of point forward with better odds of defending the perimeter. But when we look at these numbers side by side, it is worth wondering if he really does.
Cade is the better 3 point shooter, making 40% on a much higher rate than Sengun. But Sengun is 10 months younger, and Cade’s AAU FT% was less good than Sengun’s, and he did not have a particularly higher 3PA rate pre-NCAA either.
Then we look at Cade’s point forward skills, but Sengun’s assist rate is right behind him with a better assist to turnover ratio.
In terms of perimeter defense, Cade should be the favorite to be better, but he doesn’t have the best foot speed or athleticism and is prone to getting beat, and Sengun actually edges out steal rate which is somewhat predictive of perimeter defense.
Even if we completely ignore Sengun’s obvious big man advantages of blocking shots, finishing inside, drawing free throws, and being massively better on the offensive glass. There isn’t a clear signal that he is inferior to Cade as a point forward or perimeter defensive player, and he could easily catch up to Cade as a shooter.
This is not meant to imply that he is necessarily better than Cade as he is likely the inferior athlete and playing a different role and a different situation, and it is far from an apples to apples comparison. But it is interesting food for thought. Are people so hung up on how archaic Sengun’s mold is that they are overlooking how many things he does well (or at least possibly well) outside of big man things?
What Exactly Does Sengun Offer?
It is difficult to say since he spends so much time down low and we only see glimpses of his perimeter play in film. But his post game is definitely worth something. He may struggle vs elite centers like Joel Embiid, but if a team tries to play small ball Sengun will absolutely feast inside.
He also is an excellent garbage man and pick and roll finisher, as he has excellent hands and touch around the basket.
His 3 point shooting is not a guarantee with limited attempts from that range, but based on his FT% and age he does project to be an above average shooter more often than not.
And he shows a capable handle and occasionally has an impressive drive from the perimeter. In tandem with his passing, there is some potential that he can eventually learn to run pick and rolls as a handler and well as the finisher.
Defensively, he shows the occasional flash of better than expected mobility or burst, and makes a nice play. He also shows good intelligence and understanding of position. But there are plenty of other times where he gets beat comfortably, and it is difficult to imagine any future for him other than getting played off the floor in the playoffs.
Offensively he offers so much, it is difficult to see him being less than good and he can possibly be an elite weapon. Defensively…it is complicated.
Is There Hope for Sengun on Defense?
It seems like the safe assumption is that a PF with mediocre athleticism and foot speed should be a bad on defense. And without any tangible proof on film that he is good, why risk wasting a pick on him? But let’s take a trip down memory lane to a certain prospect who DraftExpress shared concerns on in each of his two final pre-draft seasons:
“Unfortunately, [21 year old prospect]’s defensive deficiencies have become even more pronounced as a senior. At 6’7, he is too small to guard elite post players, and lacks the lateral quickness to defend perimeter players, even face-up power forwards at the NCAA level. While his effort and aggressiveness will never be questioned, it is difficult to project him as an adequate NBA defender at this time.”
“Unfortunately, [20 year old prospect]’s physical limitations make it quite difficult to project him as being anything more than a liability on this end of the floor in the NBA. His lack of size means he’s quite easy to post up and just shoot over the top of even at the NCAA level, and his poor lateral quickness makes it tough to envision him being able to guard most power forwards on the perimeter or even less likely small forwards, which his height suggests he’d have to. This will be a major hurdle for [prospect] to overcome, and it’s not quite clear whether a NBA team will be able to get past this issue, despite what he contributes in various other facets of the game”
To make it even spicier, this player is one of a few on a short list of players who share Sengun’s statistical intersection of 15%+ rebounds, 11%+ assists, 2.1%+ steals, and 2.5%+ blocks as an NCAA freshman for a high major conference in the past 20 years:
By now you may have guessed the aforementioned player is 2016-17 NBA defensive player of the year Draymond Green. If scouts were saying that about Draymond at ages 20 and 21, how can we be remotely confident that Sengun will be below average at age 18? Instead of spending so much time fretting about drafting him and having him played off the court in the playoffs, should we not spend a moment to worry about passing him and watch him be a stud on both sides of the ball who becomes a future hall of famer?
Zion, Kawhi, and Simmons are much more athletic than Sengun, and Embiid is much bigger. But you have to be either a physical freak and/or exceptionally good at basketball to check these boxes at a young age.
Kyle Anderson is 2″ longer than Sengun, but he definitely is not quicker or more explosive. And he is also a good defensive player in the NBA. It may be a bit much to hope for Draymond’s defense from Sengun, but a player with Kevin Love’s offense and SloMo’s defense would be worth a #1 overall choice.
The only player on this list who is not so great on defense is Blake Griffin, who was slightly worse than Sengun in all 4 categories and also has perhaps 1.5″ less wingspan at 6’11.25″. Griffin is an odd case with exceptional vertical explosion but limited lateral movement, and as a 6 time all-star he isn’t the scariest cautionary tale.
The closest prospect to a negative example is Greg Monroe, who missed the cut with 13.2% TRB as a freshman, which is surprisingly soft for a slow big. But if you include his career averages over his 2 NCAA seasons, he does make the cut at 15.5% TRB, 20.8% AST, 2.9% STL, 4.9% BLK. He is a friendly reminder that checking the boxes for different statistics do not ensure success on their own.
But conversely, who can look at this and be confident that Sengun is not going to be good on defense? He has some very promising signals for an 18 year old.
Sengun is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and we have really never seen anything like him. Offensively he is highly similar to Kevin Love, and possibly even better.
Defensively he is a mystery box. He could be too slow and played off the floor in the playoffs, or he could be OK, or he could be surprisingly good and massively punish everybody who doubted and passed on him. For the sake of argument, let’s err on the side of negativity say this is his distribution of defensive outcomes:
10% Draymond Green
20% Kyle Anderson
20% Blake Griffin
20% Greg Monroe
30% Kevin Love
That seems like a prospect who should at least be considered at #1 overall.
It is scary to gamble on the law of averages without any clear evidence on film, but everybody thinks Cade Cunningham is a lock #1 pick without a lick of visual evidence he can play efficiently, rebound, or defend. We are always making a guess and taking a leap of faith in drafting, and it can be easy to glaze over important signals while latching onto arbitrary points.
In this case it seems that consensus is too eager to put Sengun in a box of slow PF who doesn’t fit in the modern NBA rather than a versatile + outlier talent unlike any prospect we have ever seen in our lives.
His weirdness makes him difficult to peg with any confidence, but it seems the concern is that he is merely a regular season all-star whose value erodes in the playoffs. Which is still better than the upside of many of the boring role players projected ahead of him such as Davion Mitchell, Corey Kispert, and Kai Jones.
And there are so many different things that can go surprisingly right for him, and we cannot rule out the possibility that he becomes an MVP candidate and future hall of famer.
The most bearish position that can reasonably taken in light of his weirdness and unclear NBA role is that he is the clear top choice after the top 5 guys go off the board. The most bullish position is that we should be debating him vs Evan Mobley for #1 overall because he is currently better at basketball than Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green by a ridiculous margin.
Thus far I have erred on the side of caution and leaned toward the bearish route, simply because he is such a difficult prospect to understand with any confidence. But the least that can be said is if Sengun eventually becomes the Jokic to Cade’s Wiggins, it is going to seem like it should have been extremely obvious in hindsight.