Orlando Magic 2021 Draft Preview: Alperen Sengun tries to modernize the center

Alperen Sengun is an intriguing and athletic center prospect who could help redefine the position. (Photo by Esra Bilgin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Alperen Sengun is an intriguing and athletic center prospect who could help redefine the position. (Photo by Esra Bilgin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

The center position is changing and everyone knows it.

The centers that teams valued 20, 15, and even five years ago have changed drastically. The back-down center is a rarity in this day and age. As much as some of the older players working on TV on national broadcasts might want that to change, it is not what people ask of centers.

Still, this past season was a revolution in that evolution of the position.

Nikola Jokic won the MVP and Joel Embiid was the runner-up, marking the first time two post players finished in the top two spots in MVP voting since 2004 when Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan finished 1-2 (and they would both agree they are power forwards, so it was the first time two centers finished top two since David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal in 1995).

As much as this is a center’s league, it is rare for centers to be the featured player each year despite how critical they are or appear to be.

What is clear now is that centers need as much versatility and skill as any other position on the floor. They either need to be bruising screeners and rebounders or critical cogs in the offense.

The center position in the NBA continues to change. As the Orlando Magic seek skill at the position, they will have to examine how much Alperen Sengun matches this new era.

Jokic and Embiid do their work differently. But both can work beyond the 3-point line as jump-shooting threats and as passers and distributors. That seems to be the model for the modern center now.

Nikola Vucevic had elements of both of those players on the offensive end at least. He was a true offensive weapon and one the Magic gave away for this restart to their franchise.

Orlando has two young centers it hopes can develop in that mold of the modern center — strong and versatile defensively with the ability to stretch the floor on offense and set up pick and rolls. But both Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba have a lot of questions to answer as they enter the final years of their contract.

There is enough there to intrigue and perhaps sign to a long-term extension.

But do not think the Magic are not in the market for a center either. At this point, they are in need to upgrade every position on the floor and are not particularly married to anyone.

So the question then facing Turkish center Alperen Sengun is just where he fits in this NBA landscape. Do his skills match the modern model for a center or will he be relegated to a solid bench player like his countryman Enes Kanter?

Jumping off the page

Before starting to break down that part of the analysis, his numbers simply jump off the page for a player of his age.

Alperen Sengun was named the MVP of Turkey’s Super League with 19.2 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game for powerhouse Besiktas. He also had 1.7 blocks per game for good measure. In Turkey’s failed bid to reach the Olympics in this week’s Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, Sengun still shined averaging 11.3 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game.

These are all really impressive counting stats for a player who is so young.

The stat not mentioned there? His 3-point shooting.

In a league that is increasingly asking centers to step out beyond the 3-point line, this is a part of his game that is still developing. He shot better than 60-percent overall from the field, but worse than 20-percent from beyond the arc at the international line.

Do not expect Sengun to come in and be a 3-point threat immediately. But there is at least enough evidence he is willing to step out.

Sengun shot 81.2-percent from the foul line suggesting there is plenty of growth to come as a jump shooter if that is where his game takes him.

That is his potential as a jump shooter. And while he has a strong low-post game, Sengun fits the modern vision for big men with his overall athleticism and ability to face up and attack in space.

Using space

Alperen Sengun is a pretty strong athlete for a big at 6-foot-10. He can attack the paint off the dribble and finish through contact at the rim despite his relatively slender frame. That is probably where he is at his best when he has a head of steam and a retreating big man not sure how to handle him.

No one should confuse Sengun for someone who can be a true playmaker or point forward. But finding someone who can work in transition as effectively as Sengun can is a rarity even in this versatile world of centers.

This league has become all about creating and exploiting space to get downhill. There are not many super athletic centers who can eat up that space quickly. That is where Sengun begins to stand out as a potential center prospect.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

He does a lot of the other things centers are good at too, especially for the NBA. He works well in motion offenses at the elbow on dribble hand-offs and in pick and rolls. All the things centers are always asked to do in the NBA.

But for those who want a traditional center, Sengun is a capable post-up player too. He has incredible footwork which allows him to work on multiple levels of the offense.

And he is a solid offensive rebounder. He can squeeze himself around even bigger players and fend them off for boards and garbage-pail points. Sengun is not all flash at all.

Fitting everywhere

Alperen Sengun really is sort of an offensive outlet. He may not be the guy in the NBA to lead an offense, but he is very capable to be an important cog that makes everyone else work with his offensive skill work.

That is really what the NBA is calling for from centers right now. The league wants centers who have that versatility and can fit in anywhere in the offense — as a pivot for the offense to work around and as a post-up threat to finish around the basket.

Defensively too, Sengun shows great awareness of how to use space in defending pick and rolls. That ability to take up space on both ends is such a key to the modern NBA.

The problem with Nikola Vucevic for so long was that he struggled when guards had a running start at him. He did not have the ability to press up and jump pick and rolls. The team had to go into drop coverage and he struggled to corral those guards at times.

Sengun is solid at drop coverages, although the Turkish Super League does not have the athletes the NBA has and so that will remain a challenge. But Sengun is good at eating up that space and using it to close gaps and contest shots at the rim.

Again, it still needs to be seen how he handles NBA athleticism.

And that brings everything back to the big question with Sengun. Can he become a more reliable jump shooter with the ability to step out to the 3-point line at some point.

Sengun still seems to prefer going to the post and critics hit him for passing up open jumpers to try to back down players. While he is an extremely skilled big man on that front, the margins will be significantly smaller when he gets to the NBA.

Whether Sengun develops into a legitimate versatile big or a nice player to bring off the bench likely comes down to his development and eventual comfort as a shooter.

That is always what it comes down to, isn’t it?

If the Magic are going to pick Sengun that likely means they are looking to ship out Carter or Bamba in the near future. The team should not be thinking about adding a third young center to the rotation — if anything, the Magic as constructed now need a veteran to support that group.

Moses Moody can reach from the floor to the ceiling. dark. Next

But the Magic also need to consider Sengun and whether he is not the best long-term option for the team. Despite his flaws as a jump shooter, there is a lot of the modern game that he fits. And he could well be the kind of skilled center that redefines the league.