Alperen Sengun

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Zion, Tillman, Sengun, Porter

The Pelicans were able to survive for a while with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both injured, but their current 3-8 stretch is raising concerns, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans has fallen into fourth place in the West amid a prolonged January slump. The team ranks 22nd in the league in offensive rating and 24th in defensive rating during the month and is coming off three straight double-digit losses.

“We have to find our defensive identity. Right now, we’re not guarding the way we’re capable of,” coach Willie Green said. “Those are things that we can control. We can make a decision as a team that we want to guard better. We just haven’t been doing it.”

Green is hoping to see his team respond better without Ingram and Williamson because there’s no timetable for either of them to return. Ingram hasn’t played since November 25 because of a left big toe contusion, and a report this week suggested some members of the organization are becoming impatient with his long absence. Williamson has a strained right hamstring, and Guillory doubts that he’ll be back before February or possibly even the All-Star break.

“We have a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s always nice to have two All-Stars in the rotation,” Trey Murphy said. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re missing about 40 points on a very low night. You’re getting at least 40 from those two.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies power forward Xavier Tillman talks to Spencer Davies of Basketball News about how he tries to stay sharp despite limited playing time. Tillman is averaging 11.3 minutes in 27 games and usually isn’t part of the rotation unless somebody is hurt, so he’s been doing extra work in practice and asked the coaching staff to let him play in the G League. “Being in a (Memphis) Hustle game allowed me to just play and play in a real game,” Tillman said. “So when I got my opportunity called — like now due to injury — I was ready to go and ready to help the team in all ways.”
  • The Rockets are misusing second-year center Alperen Sengun on offense, which makes it difficult to judge his long-term value, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic states in a discussion with fellow Athletic writer Kelly Iko. Vecenie sees Sengun as an exceptional ball-handler and passer, but says the team’s guards frequently don’t get the ball to him when they should. That combined with his shortcomings on defense are limiting his effectiveness.
  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. missed his fifth straight game tonight with a left foot contusion. His condition will be reevaluated in about a week, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Western Notes: Wall, Rockets, Kessler, Gordon

Appearing on the Run Your Race podcast (YouTube link), Clippers point guard John Wall revisited his tenure with the Rockets, suggesting that the team went into tanking mode after trading James Harden during Wall’s first year in Houston. According to Wall, the culture during his stint with the club was so lax that he had to tell his young teammates not to get accustomed to how little was expected of them.

“I always talked to Jalen Green, Kevin Porter, K.J. (Kenyon Martin Jr.), I’m like, ‘Don’t get adjusted to this losing s–t, this is not how the league is,'” Wall said. “But at the same time, I had to tell them, like, ‘This s–t y’all are getting away with over here, if you go to any other team, you’d be out of the f—ing league. You wouldn’t play.’ I’m trying to explain that to them because they think it’s sweet. But I’m like, ‘If you ever get traded and go somewhere else, you going to be like, ‘This motherf—er was right.””

Wall also reiterated his disappointment with how his second year in Houston played out, when he sat out for the entire season. Wall said he would have been fine playing for the rebuilding club and mentoring its young players, but wasn’t comfortable with the team asking him to accept a limited bench role of no more than 10 or 15 minutes per night when he felt as if the Rockets’ prospects were being handed starting jobs instead of earning them.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Kelly Iko and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic rank the Rockets‘ players in terms of value, agreeing that Jalen Green and Jabari Smith are in the top tier and Tari Eason and Alperen Sengun are in the second. However, the two authors disagree on the order within those tiers, as Iko favors Green and Eason while Vecenie prefers Smith and Sengun.
  • Jazz rookie Walker Kessler had his best game of the season on Monday against the team that drafted him, racking up 20 points and 21 rebounds in a one-point win over Minnesota. As Tony Jones of The Athletic observes, it was the latest instance of Kessler showing why Utah lobbied to have him included in the Rudy Gobert blockbuster over the summer and why the Timberwolves initially resisted his inclusion after having just drafted the young center.
  • Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon has been the second-best player for the top team in the Western Conference so far this season and is building a strong case for an All-Star spot with his two-way play, writes Law Murray of The Athletic. “For us to be the team that wanted to win at a high level, we had to have a much greater buy-in and commitment (on defense). And Aaron definitely fits that bill,” head coach Michael Malone said. “He guards the other team’s best player almost every night. And he never shies away from a challenge. … We wouldn’t be where we’re at at the halfway point without Aaron Gordon’s play, his attitude, and his team-first mentality.”

Southwest Notes: Mavericks, Doncic, Wood, Rockets, Vassell

The Mavericks will play a preseason game next fall in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, Marc Stein reports in a Substack story.

Dallas will also play a game against perennial Spanish League power Real Madrid during the overseas journey. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wanted to arrange a preseason game in Madrid for Luka Doncic, who played for Real Madrid until he became an NBA lottery selection.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

Injury Updates: Leonard, C. Johnson, Garland, Brunson

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has been playing under a minutes restriction all season while returning from a partially torn ACL, but that appears to have been lifted, tweets Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. Leonard logged 35 minutes Saturday afternoon at Indiana after playing 37 and 35 in the team’s past two games, meaning he’s basically back on a regular schedule.

“Still moving up the right track, feeling healthy still and that’s what it’s about,” Leonard said after the game. “Just keep getting better.”

Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t confirm that Leonard’s minutes limit is gone, but he said the increased availability is welcome because it allows him to stagger Leonard and Paul George and keep at least one star on the court throughout the game.

There’s more injury news to pass along:

  • Suns forward Cameron Johnson appears to be getting closer to a return after having meniscus surgery on November 8, tweets Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, who posted a video of Johnson running before Friday night’s game.
  • Darius Garland, who suffered a sprained right thumb late in Thursday’s game, will miss the Cavaliers‘ contest on Saturday night in Chicago, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Garland has been receiving treatment for the injury since it happened, Fedor adds. Cleveland will also be without big man Evan Mobley, who is missing his first game of the season because of soreness in his right ankle. Lamar Stevens and Kevin Love will start in their place, giving the Cavs their 17th different starting lineup in 37 games.
  • Knicks guard Jalen Brunson will miss his third straight game with a hip injury tonight in Houston, tweets Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. The Rockets will be without starting center Alperen Sengun, who is suffering lower back pain, according to Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston (Twitter link).

Rockets Exercise Options On Green, Sengun, Garuba, Christopher

6:55pm: The Rockets have officially picked up their options on all four players, according to a press release from the team.


6:20pm: The Rockets plan to pick up the 2023/24 contract options of all four players they drafted last season — lottery pick Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh ChristopherJonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports.

It was a mere formality that the options of Green and Sengun would be picked up. They are two key building blocks for one of the youngest teams in the league. The option on Green’s contract is $9,891,480, while Sengun will take in $3,536,280.

The other option decisions weren’t quite as obvious. Garuba only appeared in 24 games last season due to injuries and he’s averaging just over 12 minutes in four appearances this season. However, the front office was encouraged by his performances for Spain in the Eurobasket tournament and by what he displayed in training camp and preseason workouts, according to Feigen.

Christopher saw action in 74 games as a rookie, though his playing time has dropped in the early going this year. Garuba’s contract will be guaranteed at $2,588,400, while Christopher will earn $2,485,200.

Southwest Notes: Campazzo, Morant, Durant, Sengun, Rockets

Facundo Campazzo‘s visa issues have been resolved and he’ll be in uniform Tuesday and ready to play in the Mavericks’ game in New Orleans, coach Jason Kidd told Dwain Price of the team’s website (Twitter link) and other media members.

Campazzo was signed to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract last week to add depth for the Mavericks at point guard. Campazzo spent the last two seasons with the Nuggets after establishing himself as one of the top point guards in the EuroLeague.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies star Ja Morant poured in 49 points against Houston during the opening week of the season and Nets perennial All-Star Kevin Durant is dazzled by Morant’s talent, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes. “He’s a unique player. A lot of athleticism and creativity out there,” Durant said. “Body type reminds you of somebody like — well he’s taller than A.I. [Allen Iverson], but a wiry, strong player … but he’s an incredible player, man.”
  • The Rockets’ rotation, particularly at center, remains a fluid situation, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle notes. Alperen Sengun didn’t start on Saturday even with Bruno Fernando out with a sore left knee. While there are some matchups where Sengun will be suited for the starting lineup, there are others where it’s wise for him to be on the second unit with Fernando or Usman Garuba in the starting five. Sengun missed Monday’s game with an illness, Feigen tweets.
  • Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. are the main building blocks in the Rockets’ rebuild and Kelly Iko of The Athletic takes a deep dive into the state of the franchise and its plans to develop those young players.

Texas Notes: Langford, Sengun, Doncic, Campazzo

Romeo Langford beat out Joe Wieskamp for the last spot on the Spurs’ roster and Langford is looking to establish a career foothold, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News writes.

“I feel like I have a new start with an organization that believes in me and wants to see me succeed and will do everything they can to help me be better off and on the court,” Langford said.

Langford appeared in just four games for San Antonio last season after being included in the Derrick White deal with Boston. He has a $5,634,257 salary this season and could be a restricted free agent next summer if San Antonio extends a qualifying offer.

We have more on the Texas teams:

  • Rockets second-year center Alperen Sengun might be more effective coming off the bench, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains. Sengun could showcase more of his offensive moves if he’s on the second unit, while Bruno Fernando is more suited for the rebounding and pick-and-roll responsibilities with the starting unit. “It’s always important for (Sengun) to touch the ball when he’s on the floor because that’s his strength,” coach Stephen Silas said. “I’m intentional about making sure that he gets the ball when it’s necessary and sometimes when he hasn’t had a touch.”
  • Mavericks coach Jason Kidd believes Luka Doncic could turn another corner during the fifth season of his career, Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com writes. “He will understand the league better,” Kidd said. “With his talent, he’s always going to make his teammates better. He’s (one of) if not the best player in the world. It could be where things are a little clearer where he can see things a lot better and understand what teams are trying to do.”
  • Facundo Campazzo was officially added to the Mavericks roster on Tuesday via a one-year contract and the former Nuggets guard is grateful to get another NBA job, as he told Sefko. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” he said. “I was training hard, as much as I could in Argentina. I just tried to be ready for any chance in the NBA. The opportunity came now and I love it.”

Rockets Notes: Smith, Sengun, Silas, Season Preview

Rockets rookie big man Jabari Smith Jr. remains sidelined as he continues to rehabilitate from a sprained left ankle, though he was cleared for contact practices on Tuesday, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. The 6’10” power forward, the third pick out of Auburn, expressed confidence that he might be available for Houston’s 2022/23 season opener, scheduled for Wednesday, October 19, against the Hawks.

“I’m working to get back in shape now, just getting ready, getting my body ready for the first regular-season game,” Smith said. “It’s been tough, just sitting out, watching my teammates get better. I’m working to get better. I know I’ll be back in no time. It’s a long season.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • Second-year Rockets center Alperen Sengun is working to get more involved in Houston’s offense, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle in a separate piece. “Al-P’s strength is having the basketball and he hasn’t had the ball much,” head coach Stephen Silas remarked. “He’s been a pick-and-roll player. As we go through training camp, which is still going on, he’ll get his post-ups and he’ll get his elbow catches and it’ll be more comfortable for him.”
  • Rockets head coach Stephen Silas has rejoined the club following a week-long absence due to his second COVID-19 infection, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Silas missed two Houston preseason contests and four team practices. Assistant coach John Lucas led the team in Silas’s absence. “It wasn’t a great experience going through it… but I feel good now,” Silas said. “I told the guys this; the hardest part is not seeing them and not being around them. The practices, it is what it is, the drills and the games and stuff. But just being around these guys, they’re such a fun group — I missed them.”
  • With Rockets first-round draft selections Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and TyTy Washington Jr. now in the fold, joining young players Jalen GreenKevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., Josh Christopher, and Usman Garuba, the rebuilding Rockets appear poised to enjoy a fascinating 2022/23 season of development, though that probably won’t translate to wins. John Hollinger of The Athletic previews the club’s season outlook, projecting a 22-60 finish.

Rockets To Exercise 2023/24 Options On Four Players

The Rockets plan to exercise their third-year team options on all four of their 2021 first-round draft picks, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). The four players, whose salaries are set to be guaranteed for 2023/24, are Jalen Green ($9,891,480), Alperen Sengun ($3,536,280), Usman Garuba ($2,588,400) and Josh Christopher ($2,485,200).

As Feigen writes, it’s normally a formality that teams pick up the rookie scale options after first-rounders have played one season, but exercising Garuba’s after an injury-played campaign limited him to 24 appearances in ’21/22 was a little less certain. However, the No. 23 overall pick of 2021 had a strong offseason and training camp and showcased solid play at EuroBasket, helping Spain win the gold medal, Feigen notes.

Green, the No. 2 overall pick last year, averaged 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 2.6 APG on .426/.343/.797 shooting in 67 games (31.9 MPG). The 20-year-old had a slow start in ’21/22 but an excellent second half, averaging 22.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 3.2 APG on .476/.387/.756 shooting in 24 games (34.6 MPG) after the All-Star break. He was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

Sengun, who is set to become a full-time starter in ’22/23, had a productive rookie season on a per-minute basis but struggled with fouls, which is typical for young big men. The Turkish center averaged 9.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.8 SPG and 0.9 BPG on .474/.258/.711 shooting in 72 games (13 starts, 20.7 MPG). He was the No. 16 overall selection.

Christopher, the No. 24 overall pick of last year’s draft, also had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 2.0 APG on .448/.296/.735 shooting in 74 games (18.0 MPG). The combo guard is looking to improve as a decision-maker entering year two.

Stephen Silas Discusses Unexpected Challenges With Rockets

Stephen Silas didn’t know he was walking into a rebuilding situation when the Rockets hired him as their head coach prior to the 2020/21 season. Silas was taking over a team that had two perennial All-Stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook and was coming off a long string of playoff appearances.

Both players recommended Silas for the job, but they both issued trade requests before the start of training camp, with Westbrook being shipped to Washington during the preseason and Harden forcing his way to Brooklyn after eight regular season games. Silas discusses that sudden transition, and all the challenges that followed, in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“You’re trying to just tackle each situation as it came, whether it was the (Harden) stuff that you read in the paper or online and then having to answer questions about it, or the Russ stuff,” Silas said. “All those things weren’t exactly the things that I thought I was going to be talking about in my first few days as a head coach, and my first few days of training camp having to answer all those questions. But the task is there, and you just kind of do it. It’s hard to say that it was especially hard because I think it’s always going to be hard (laughs). But a task comes, there’s a mountain to climb, so you climb it. There’s a big wave coming in; you move out of the way.”

Silas also credited the Rockets’ ownership and general manager Rafael Stone for supporting him amid the turmoil.

“We were tested early, but my relationship with ownership, my relationship with management is good,” he added. “Through all of this kind of stuff that was going on, that was the thing that I was able to grasp onto and hold onto was knowing that they were in my corner because they selected me.”

Silas addressed several other topics during the interview:

On the progress of his young backcourt, Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.:

“I think Jalen Green’s growth and improvement encapsulates our season. Early in the season, he was really struggling. He was pressing, not doing what he was used to doing, which is scoring points easily. And it was hard for him. But he worked through it. We stuck with him. And he got better slowly but surely as the season went along and ended up where at the end of the season, he was playing great. Same thing with Kevin Porter Jr. He started the season off turning the ball over quite a bit, learning how to play the point guard position. I think he led the league in turnovers early in the season, but as the season went along, he started to understand.”

On the challenges faced by center Alperen Sengun as he adjusted to the NBA during his rookie season:

“He makes things happen when he has the ball in his hands, whether he’s in the low post, scoring or making passes in the high post, at the elbow, making plays for his teammates. He does a good job of helping his teammates play well. But part of that growth and part of that struggle at the beginning of the season is that nobody knew how to play with him, and he didn’t know how to play with our guys. So as the season went along, it became more natural for guys to know when those passes are coming, and for him to know that this is where you’re gonna most likely get the ball and this is where you can be effective.”

On what he likes about Jabari Smith, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft:

“He is a two-way player and very much a difference-maker as far as his length and his defensive instincts and his rebounding and his grit. He’s a quiet kid, and he can fool you sometimes. When he gets on the court, he is intense and competitive and has an edge to him — which I love. So yeah, his shooting is very good, and that will be his thing offensively, as well as his ability to shot fake and drive the ball and get to the rim, use his length, his offensive rebounding and whatnot. But it’s not very often when you have a high, high pick where you can say ‘Wow, he’s really good on both ends.’ And you can see it, where he could be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.”

On his relationship with Harden and Westbrook, considering the circumstances of their departure:

“All three people who you mentioned (including former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) had a big part in me being here and being a head coach in the NBA. So when I see them, there’s definitely no ill will. I’ve been around the NBA my whole life, so I understand the business part of it and everything that goes into that. But yeah, I’m good. I’m good with those guys, and I appreciate them for putting their stamp on my head coaching career.”