August 20, 2022

Going into last Thursday’s 2022 NBA Draft, the future seemed obvious in Houston — but a bit murky, all the same. The Rockets needed to land Paolo Banchero from Duke and form a dynamic two-man offensive game with sophomore guard Jalen Green.

However, huge questions also existed with this selection, and more specifically with regard to second-year center Alperen Sengun.

Would Banchero become a strong enough 3-point threat to leave room for Sengun to operate at the position? How would the defensive cut work with Sengun in the middle and Banchero up front? Could Houston generate enough offensive touches for Sengun while creating a pattern around dominant players like Green, Banchero and Kevin Porter Jr.?

Fortunately, that’s not what happened Thursday night. Paolo Banchero has been shockingly picked first overall by the Orlando Magic. That left Auburn’s Jabari Smith, pegged for months to be the No. 1 pick, to slide to the No. 3 Rockets in the first round.

No one should be happier than Sengun.

The 19-year-old Auburn averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds as a rookie en route to Associated Press second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC honors . More impressively, he shot an incredible 42% on 3-pointers on more than five attempts per game. It all adds up to 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on defense.

Instead of an awkward adjustment, it’s as if Houston was able to engineer the perfect power forward to play alongside their No. 16 overall pick of 2021.

Smith has the perfect defensive skills to play next to Sengun and cover any perceived defensive gaps at that end of the field. He is much more instinctive on that side and can move to all positions. Best of all, at 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, offers more than enough length and strength to make a difference in the paint job.

Offensively, Smith’s peripheral shot represents a whole new world for Sengun. Rather than clogging the paint, Sengun can operate with his varied range of motion in the low post and play to his strengths, while Smith’s shot not only distracts defensive attention from Sengun, but creates a whole new opportunity overtaking for the crafty center.

Sengun averaged 9.6 points and 2.6 assists in 20 minutes per game last season. Alongside a dynamic shooting threat like Smith and paired with the combined creative efforts of Green and Porter Jr., those numbers have the potential to skyrocket in the 2022-23 season.

There have been criticisms of Smith over the idea that he is not ready to create his attacking shot just yet. However, the attention Sengun and Green demand from defenses should help him quite a bit in this category. You wouldn’t expect him to realize that immediately.

A few weeks ago, Smith himself noted that while he didn’t expect to drop out of the draft, he would compliment Sengun well on his shooting if he found himself in Houston. Today, this possibility is a reality.

Houston was a huge winner on Thursday night when Smith fell for his pick. In context, Alperen Sengun could be an even bigger winner.

Head coach Stephen Silas must now figure out how best to deploy his new attacking duo in 2022-23. The team’s success likely hinges on how well this frontline duo fit in at both ends of the pitch.