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And the Thunder Select: Chet Holmgren

And the Thunder Select: Chet Holmgren
  • Born: May 1, 2002
  • Draft Age: 20.1
  • High School: Minnehaha Academy
  • RSCI: 1
  • College: Gonzaga
  • Measurements (Projected): 7’0, 195 pounds, 7’5 wingspan
  • Consensus Ranking: 2nd
via Basketball-Reference

Shades of: Better Kristaps Porzingis with working knees: nobody else in NBA history

via CBB Analytics

My personal number one prospect in this class, in his own tier, is Chet Holmgren. Coming out of Minnehaha Academy in Minnesota with Jalen Suggs, Chet joined Gonzaga as a true freshman and all he did was finish second in the nation in BPM. Chet is a unique talent (at least, for one more year until Victor Wembanyama and maybe Kel’el Ware arrive) in that he is a tall, offensively versatile, lanky seven-footer who–despite being listed at under 200 pounds–absolutely dominated the college game. The Thunder have the second overall pick, and I would consider them lucky if Orlando passed up on Holmgren. If so, I believe GM Sam Presti would sprint the card up and wouldn’t think twice about who he is picking. We know how much he loves length and tools, and Chet is exactly what he is looking for. Only two players since 2008 in college basketball have accomplished this:

  • BLK% > 10
  • 3P Attempts > 100
  • Rim Makes > 100

Chet Holmgren (2021) and Chris Boucher (2016) share the honor. This is not a direct comparison (Chet was younger, taller, more efficient, a better finisher, a better defender, and a better passer in college) but it shows that this is Holmgren brings a highly unique skill set to the table. The combination of dominant rim protection and competent floor spacing is not something you can get out of the top three in almost any draft. The Thunder would be well on their way to playoff contention in the near future if Chet fell to them. Let’s take a look at why.

Big-Time Defense

The discourse around Chet and his frame are frankly nauseating, as there is zero indication that it will hinder him at the NBA level. I watched him stonewall Jalen Duren (listed at 250 pounds and who is built like a Greek god) multiple times in the NCAA tournament. Chet had a 12.6 percent block rate as a true freshman and averaged 5.4 blocks per 40, truly outstanding numbers for a primary rim protector. A 1.6 percent steal rate is solid as well, as Chet combined for nearly 7 stocks per 40 minutes, which should translate to the next level. The dude is not afraid of contact and physicality. He plays hard and tough, despite what his “frame” might otherwise indicate. I would contrast Holmgren with Aleksej Pokusevski, who has so far struggled with dealing with contact and sometimes looks scared of it.

All offseason I’ve seen people writing absurd fanfictions about Chet and how he would struggle guarding Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic 1v1 (who doesn’t?). Do we think these players are going to back Chet down every possession and score? That it’s impossible to gain some weight?

These things don’t happen in the game of basketball. Holmgren is in the tier of Evan Mobley, Embiid, and Anthony Davis as rim-protecting prospects. The Thunder have specifically lacked that for quite some time, dating back to Serge Ibaka. He would be a tremendous backline asset to a team that already sports a pretty solid defense despite mediocre defensive personnel. His ability to hedge and recover on the perimeter in the PnR is present as well and, while he might not be a tremendous perimeter defender, he can hold his own thanks to his his length and instincts.

Holmgren’s rim protection is outstanding. Teams were afraid to shoot at the rim while he was defending the paint and his length, instincts, and college production are simply too good to all of a sudden fail in the NBA. He possesses all the tools to eventually become an All-NBA level defender, using tremendous timing and his 7’5 wingspan when defending the rim. Just because he doesn’t physically look like what you might expect from your typical star rim protector yet, that doesn’t mean he can’t be one. You cannot let aesthetic bias cloud your judgment when the results thus far have been nothing but elite.

There are only ten true high major freshman since 2008 to post the following:

  • BLK% > 11
  • O-BPM > 2

Sorted by BPM, this looks like a pretty good list to spot Chet on. You don’t just stumble into this efficiency and defensive production by accident. Chet is a truly special talent at the defensive end of the floor.

Finishing Everything on Offense

Another statistical data point that points to Chet’s frame concerns being way overblown is the fact that he shot an absurd 84 percent at the rim this season (on 125 attempts). That is just a crazy number, and he was only assisted on 52.6 percent of those makes, per Bart Torvik. His touch near the basket is off the charts, Deandre Ayton-esque. He can finish with either hand around the rim and his length makes him really deadly inside as an interior play finisher and scorer. Chet is pretty adept at finishing through contact, sporting a 35.4 percent FTr combined with those ridiculous finishing numbers. Dunks and putbacks off of offensive rebounds (99th percentile per Synergy!) are very underrated skills on offense that were no sweat for Chet. In addition to that, he’s pretty solid in transition, ranking in the 93rd percentile this past season. He took the ball coast to coast after his own block quite a few times during his freshman year and is a damn good hit ahead passer. His handle is nothing special and he is not much of a creator for himself or others, but he is a solid connecting piece offensively.

OKC has a real lack of players who can consistently finish at the rim at the moment, as nobody who played at least 1,000 minutes last season finished in the 50th+ percentile of rim finishing, per Dunks and Threes. Chet isn’t necessarily the bounciest athlete in terms of vertical pop, but his tremendous length and height allow for him to become the kind of vertical spacer that OKC desperately lacks. His frame can compensate for some potential errant passes as well, serving as a release valve for stalled offensive possessions.

Solid Passing

Chet is a really good connective passer. He may not be as good as Paolo in terms of running actions, but he’s certainly much better than Jabari Smith and is almost always making the right decision. Presti has been hoarding a lot of connective pieces to play off of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and now Josh Giddey, and Chet would fit in seamlessly with those guys. He was especially effective in hi-lo situations with Drew Timme, making entry passes on the money. This is not one of his best overall skills by any stretch, but it’s a nice bonus to have a player who is willing to make the right pass when it’s available.

The ability to make simple reads consistently may not be a flashy skill for a big man, but it helps the offense tremendously. Darius Bazley and other Thunder big men were missing open players constantly last season when they got into the lane, and I think Chet’s ability to keep the offense flowing and find open shots would be a helpful addition to a lineup that features a tremendous creator in Shai and an amazing passer in Giddey.

Sharp Shooting

Chet shot 39% from downtown throughout his freshman season at Gonzaga on 105 total attempts. In addition to that, he shot 70% from the FT line with 99 attempts. The current projection for next season seems to lie right in the middle for me, as I expect Holmgren to be a 34-35 percent shooter to start his career. The touch at the rim is too good to discount, and he’s accumulated reps letting it fly from downtown for quite some time now. Synergy ranked him in the 52nd percentile for spot-ups. He hardly took any corner three-pointers this past season (going 3/5 in total) so you could see more efficiency if those increase in the NBA (*cough* all of Bazley’s attempts *cough*).

He did a lot of damage this past season as a trailing big as evidenced by his 61 attempts, by far his most of any location, at the top of the arc. He shot 37.7 percent on these attempts, a stellar number, and I definitely think he can make hay in the same role next season for whichever team he lands on.

The Thunder need some floor spacing; luckily all of the top four players and all three of the top big men provide it at varying degrees sure. I trust Chet to knock down open shots on a pretty consistent basis when he comes into the league. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl doubled his three-point rate in his rookie season compared to his final college year, and I trust that Oklahoma City will give Chet the freedom to continue to let it fly from behind the arc.

Chet has commented before that he believes he can show more offensively as a creator, given the fact he only ran four PnR ball-handler possessions in college, and I believe he has it in him given I that saw him dribble a lot more in high school and AAU ball. To what extent I don’t know, but I believe there might be some untapped potential in that aspect of his game. Mark Daigneault likes his five-out offense, and I think Chet can help with that.

Lock it in?

I would be ecstatic if the Thunder ended up with Chet Holmgren. I believe he is the best player in the class and if you care about fit when drafting, he’s an excellent choice there as well. The Thunder are currently lacking shooting and rim protection, two things Chet will provide the team. He can also unlock some lineup versatility, potentially allowing Giddey to play the four on defense, or maybe even slotting in at the four himself and joining a more interior-oriented big like Mark Williams or Jalen Duren (with the 12th pick) in the frontcourt. Chet provides S-Tier defense and B-Tier offense. He stretches the floor, is an elite play finisher, and fills a connective role in the offense. One difference between Chet and Paolo Banchero that might make the former more intriguing to OKC in particular is that Chet doesn’t need the ball as much as Paolo does in order to do things on offense. I’m not sure how much that matters to Presti and co, but it’s an interesting thought.

In the end, it all depends on what the Magic do at first overall. Their GM John Hammond has an affinity for length and tools, which is why I think he would go with Chet, but who knows?

What I do know is that Chet Holmgren would be a home run pick for the Thunder in this draft and can be a potential franchise cornerstone for years to come. He could be the kind of cornerstone the Thunder have been looking for since the Paul George trade and infamous roster break-up that followed.