Nikola Jokic was selected 41st overall in 2014 largely because of question marks about his defensive upside, mobility and post-heavy style of play. Despite all 30 teams watching the 6-foot-11, 253-pound center fire no-look passes, spin past defenders and drop in scoop finishes against Karl Anthony Towns and Clint Capela for a week of Nike Hoop Summit practices, evaluators struggled to conceptualize how his game and body type would look in the NBA.
Seven years later, Jokic is running through NBA competition on his way to an MVP award, and those questions are almost laughable in hindsight. As Jokic uses those same moves we saw back in 2014 against elite NBA centers such as Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert, scouts and executives have become slower to dismiss the next wave of international big men with similar shortcomings.
As one talent evaluator put it, "no one wants to miss on another Jokic."
Enter Alperen Sengun.
To call Sengun the next Jokic would be unfair to the ultra-productive, 18-year-old, Turkish big man and projected lottery pick. Jokic's feel for the game and creativity are rare. He was also given time to develop at his own pace with a draft-and-stash season in Serbia, and landed in an excellent situation with a Nuggets team that put the ball in his hands and allowed him to make plays. He's bigger, longer and had a more modern game than Sengun at the same stage. But the 6-foot-9 Sengun, who is in the midst of a record-breaking season for Beskitas in the Turkish League, is facing some of the same questions Jokic did about his frame, paint-dominant style of play and lack of foot speed. Yet Jokic's success, combined with Sengun's quick spins, post footwork and behind the back passes, figures to bode well for Sengun, since the NBA evaluation process is so often shaped by recent trends and player comparisons.
"I watch Jokic, and I really want to play in the same style that he has," Sengun told ESPN through a translator after a practice in Istanbul. "Fadeaway, post moves. Generally, I study him. Some people say it's similar to Jokic's moves."