The Oklahoman

Why OKC passed on Sengun in draft

- Thunder Insider Joe Mussatto The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

HOUSTON — There’s always going to be one or two draft prospects fan bases fall in love with for one reason or another. Groupthink takes over. The pick has to be Player X or bust.

In the 2020 NBA Draft, the fan favorite in Thundervil­le was Serbian teenager Aleksej Pokusevski, and that’s exactly whom OKC selected with the 17th pick. It was a rare instance in which general manager Sam Presti did what was predicted.

Turkish center Alperen Sengun was that guy in the 2021 draft. The Thunder was armed with three first-round picks (Nos. 6, 16, 18), and Sengun, a crafty big man adored by the analytics community, was still on the board when the 16th pick rolled around.

Sure enough, Sengun was the Thunder’s pick. Though only formally. He wore a Thunder cap on draft night as he posed with commission­er Adam Silver, but Sengun was headed to Houston.

The Thunder made the pick for the

Rockets. In exchange for the rights to Sengun, OKC received two future firstround picks from Houston — one via Detroit, and another from Washington.

The Thunder (0-1) will play at the Rockets (0-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, and there are sure to be overreacti­ons to Sengun's performanc­e — whether he plays well or not. Sengun had 11 points and six rebounds in his NBA debut Wednesday against the Timberwolv­es.

Who knows if the Thunder would have taken Sengun if it had kept the 16th pick, but regardless, Thunder fans will remember Sengun as the player OKC passed on.

Nobody, including Presti, knows what the consequenc­es of that decision will be. Yes, the Thunder passed on Sengun, but really it passed on the historical value of the 16th pick for two future firstround cracks.

The NBA Draft is one giant guessing game. Even the smartest front offices can't come close to predicting the future. They can only look to the past as a guide.

And here's what the recent past has said about the 16th pick.

2020: Isaiah Stewart (promising, but too early to tell)

2019: Chuma Okeke (see above) 2018: Zhaire Smith (out of the NBA) 2017: Justin Patton (out of the NBA) 2016: Guerschon Yabusele (out of the NBA)

2015: Terry Rozier (good player) 2014: Jusuf Nurkic (good player) 2013: Lucas Nogueira (out of the NBA)

2012: Royce White (out of the NBA) 2011: Nikola Vucevic (great player) 2010: Luke Babbitt (out of the NBA) Since 2010, there are more 16th picks who are out of the NBA than still in it.

One player, Vucevic, is an All-Star. None are All-NBA players.

It's not like the the 16th pick is cursed. You can strike gold in that range. Giannis Antetokoun­mpo and Kawhi Leonard were taken just one spot earlier at No. 15. It's just that the odds of landing that kind of player are long, so why not take two swings instead of one?

The Thunder turned one middling first-round pick into two future firstround picks that could fall in a similar range, slightly better range, or slightly worse range.

The pick from Detroit is protected 1 to 16 in 2022, 1 to 18 in 2023 and 2024, 1 to 13 in 2025, 1 to 11 in 2026 and 1 to 9 in 2027.

The pick from Washington is protected 1 to 14 in 2023, 1 to 12 in 2024, 1 to 10 in 2025 and 1 to 8 in 2026.

Both picks are likely to convey sometime in the next six years. It's a sound strategy to bet against the futures of the Pistons and Wizards.

“It's very unusual to get offered two future firsts that far out,” Presti said on draft night.

It's also worth considerin­g Sengun's position. Centers are losing value in the modern NBA, and they're often played off the floor in the playoffs. Perhaps that's why Sengun, who was one of the best players in Europe at just 18 years old, fell as far as he did.

It wasn't just the Thunder that let him slip through the cracks.

The Thunder made the trade knowing it had another pick coming two slots later at No. 18, where it took Florida guard Tre Mann.

But the Thunder's evaluation wasn't Mann over Sengun. OKC assessed and trusted the value of the pick over its scouting subjectivi­ty.

The decision could haunt them. Sengun might become a perennial All-Star. An MVP. Maybe he's the next Nikola Jokic. If so, Houston would surge past Oklahoma City in an otherwise slow rebuilding race.

But chances are he's not Jokic. Sengun might be just another 16th pick.

“It was way above the line for the general value of that pick,” Presti said of the Thunder's return, “and we're going to probably make that decision most of the time.”

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 ?? ARTURO HOLMES/GETTY IMAGES ?? NBA Commission­er Adam Silver, left, and Alperen Sengun pose for photos after Sengun was drafted by the Thunder on July 29. He was later traded to the Rockets.
ARTURO HOLMES/GETTY IMAGES NBA Commission­er Adam Silver, left, and Alperen Sengun pose for photos after Sengun was drafted by the Thunder on July 29. He was later traded to the Rockets.

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