Chet Holmgren's stat line is impressive for a rookie. Four games in, he's averaging 15 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks on 77.5% True Shooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you are lukewarm about those numbers, compare them to Anthony Davis's rookie season and get back to me. Or compare his (unsustainable) per-minute three-point shotmaking to last season's league-wide leader board, where he would be tied with Kevin Huerter at 4.5 3PM per 48.
He's also passing the eye test with flying colors, as a player who knows how and where he fits on both ends of the floor. The #2 overall pick is a clear Rookie of the Year candidate, despite the eye-popping visuals feeding the hype cycle from San Antonio.
While flashes shown are often just an indulgence for fans who might invest more hope than is merited into a Terrance Ferguson 24-point outburst or a 13-point Darius Bazley volcanic eruption, Holmgren has shown flashes, as well: most notably when racking up 7 blocks in addition to 16 points and 13 rebounds in his second career game against the Cavaliers. Chet outshining Evan Mobley in a head-to-head victory is juicier than a 20-20 Moses Brown performance in a blowout loss.
He's blocking corner threes, for goodness' sakes. I hope Gregg Popovich is upset somewhere, having learned that the league is now countering the three-pointer arms race by developing giant bigs to roam the perimeter on defense before launching threes of their own on offense. What's that? Popovich signed up for another five years coaching the sport whose evolution he's lamented and suffered through for decades? I guess in between yelling at clouds and sideline reporters, Pop must have found a way to draft (without tanking, surely) and develop a player who defies the expanding on-court galaxy that increasingly sends very tall people to where the shots are worth more points. Not exactly, you say? I digress.
It hasn't all been pretty for Chet. While putting up those numbers, he's also been crossed into a deep, dark chasm by Andre Drummond, and watched the Nikola Jokic hurricane ravage the Thunder from the eye of the storm.
And despite the Thunder's 3-1 start, Chet's on-court impact has been less statistically rosy, too. The starting lineup has just a +1 net rating if you don't count that Nuggets blowout. The four units he's been featured in most heavily are all being outscored by Oklahoma City's opponent. He's super skinny, a height and weight tweener who can't just yet be considered a forever lock for full-time status at center. He gets moved easily, relying as much on his length and instincts to recover from deep in the paint as he does to confront the opponent to begin with. And when he's on the court, OKC's defense has thus far been as average as it was last season when the team cobbled together a frontcourt without real rim protecting personnel.
After his matchup punked the Thunder in that Denver loss, he had this to say about learning from and adapting to a phenom like Jokic: “I personally have to be better. Obviously, he’s a great player. You can shrug it off (and say) ‘2-time MVP player.’ But you gotta take it to heart and figure out what you can do to be better.”
Oh, Chet. Jokic entered the league with Neo's view of the matrix and has downloaded the most recent information about the evolving laws of NBA movement, defensive coverage and skill profiles ever since. This is not someone you can just crack the next time around with better effort and determination.