The Charlotte Hornets have a center problem. Everyone knows this. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo are both free agents, leaving second year second round picks Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards as the only true bigs on the roster. Neither has shown any evidence that they are the long term answer at the position.
The Hornets can elect to target this need in the draft with Alperen Şengün. Şengün is coming off an MVP season in the Turkish Super League, which is one of the more competitive leagues in the world, at just 18 years old. In that MVP season, he averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 64.6% from the field.
Şengün is extremely skilled offensively and is coming off a historically productive season in the Turkish Super League. He has terrific footwork on the interior and was a dominant presence in the post last season. He probably won’t be a high usage post-up player in the NBA, especially if he ends up with the Hornets, but that’s always a nice tool to have when the right match-ups present themselves.
But that footwork and interior touch go beyond post-up scoring. He has soft hands receiving interior passes and feeds in pick and roll scenarios. He uses a variety of spins and ball fakes to get defenders on their heels, and overall his footwork is among the best you’ll ever see in a prospect his age. He’s also a strong attacker from the perimeter against other bigs. He has a deceptive handle and plays angles well to get to the basket. He’s even displayed some coast to coast drives and finishes in transition.
Şengün stands out tremendously as a passer. He can get too audacious at times, but you’ll live with that in a young player. It means he sees the game, and the turnovers will decrease over time as he learns to make better decisions.
Some of the passes in that cutup are very Nikola Jokic-esque, and having a center that can make plays like that makes an offense incredibly difficult to stop.
Şengün is also a very strong rebounder, especially offensively. He has great anticipation on the glass, and he works very hard for positioning. That motor also shows itself on the defensive end, where he tallied more steals and blocks than you’d expect for a player with a rather ordinary physical profile.
He’s not a shooter at this stage of his career, but there’s a foundation there. He shot 81% at the line, and his jump shot mechanics don’t look broken by any means. Better shot preparation and more confidence should unlock his shooting ability, and he should become at least a passable threat from the outside.
Şengün does not have a good physical profile for a center. He’s listed as either 6’9” or 6’10” depending on where you look, which combined with his less-than-stellar wingspan, makes him rather undersized for a five. He’s got more bounce than he’s given credit for, but it’s not enough to cancel out his lackluster height and length.
While he’s very fluid offensively, Şengün looks just as heavy-footed defensively. He struggles in space and may be a major liability defending pick and rolls and pick and pops. He’s not long or athletic enough to be a true rim protector, but he’s not quick enough to be super switchable. It’s hard to determine what to do with him defensively. To his credit, he plays hard on that side of the ball, but he has work to do to turn himself into a plus defender.
He looks like he’ll become a decent shooter in due time, but he’s not that right now. There’s always a risk in assuming a player will add a completely new skill once they make it to the league, and it’s possible that Şengün doesn’t figure out his range shooting. If that ends up being the case, he becomes somewhat relegated to a throwback style big, and it’s hard to make that work in the modern NBA.
Şengün’s offensive versatility at the five is exactly what the Hornets need. He can be an offensive hub at the elbows and a dangerous decision maker on the short roll. He and LaMelo Ball would certainly make for a showy display of passing when on the court together.
There are shades of Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis in Şengün’s game. Neither Jokic nor Sabonis are terrific athletes by any means, but they make a huge impact with their strength, skill, effort, and savvy. Şengün has a lot of the tools to succeed in the same manner.