Consider the Houston Rockets. OK, that didn’t take long, did it? There’s not much going on. Their roster was engineered to lose games, and it’s fulfilling its purpose. Christian Wood is Houston’s only recognizably good player, and he’s surrounded by a bunch of prospects in various larval and pupal stages. Jalen Green is cool and flashy and certainly looks like he will be hot shit at some point in the Biden administration, but also he is in the “shooting 33 percent from the field” stage. John Wall, who allegedly has all his limbs attached to the correct sockets, has been told to sit there and collect checks so he doesn’t accidentally help his team win. I guess Eric Gordon is still around?
This is usually what a team looks like right after picking second in the draft, and the only reason one might have to watch them is to check out what the youngsters are up to. Which brings us finally to Houston’s Turkish teenage rookie Alperen Sengun, who has been up to a lot. Specifically, he has a free-throw routine that involves him whispering intensely to the basketball for, like, a really long time as he rotates it in front of and along his semi-open mouth. I noticed it during last night’s game against the Lakers, though he’s been doing it his entire career. Some examples:
Sengun explained to Eurohoops earlier this year, “It’s like prayer. I try to motivate myself by talking to the ball,” adding that he says things like “very important” to the ball, though that interview was conducted in Turkish and the translation process probably sapped some of the original context. He briefly responded to the question of what he says to the basketball by terming it a “TRADEE [sic] SECRET.” The incantations with which he infuses the basketball are clearly working, as he’s made a team-high 20 of his 26 free throws this season, one year after shooting 81 percent from the line in the Turkish league.
Sengun is more than just a guy with a sensual foul shot. He can run around and do plenty of stuff too. He’s sixth in the NBA with 2.5 steals per game, he can make some nifty interior passes, and he’s already displayed a veteran’s careful eye for the dark art of flopping. Also, his English is such that he uses a translator, though he knows the phrase “Gimme that shit!” well enough to scream it after blocks.
Sengun has said that he’s been told to speed up his free-throw routine to steer clear of 10-second violations, though clearly he still has more to say to the basketball.