SALT LAKE CITY — It’s hard to believe at first glance. Oklahoma City hitched up his car him? Chet Holmgren, all 7′ 1″, 195-lbs of him, isn’t skinny for an NBA player. He’s skinny for everyone, a stick figure brought to life. If there is such a thing as a prototypical NBA body, Holmgrens is the opposite of it.
Second look – and third and fourth – you think, man, Oklahoma City hitched his car him. Holmgren made his summer league debut on Tuesday. He scored 23 points. He pulled down seven rebounds. He blocked six shots. Game Center, Holmgren drew Tacko case out on the edgefour threesome stunning.
“I thought he was really good,” said Thunder coach Kameron Woods.
You think? The summer league hot takes are as meaningless as the games. Anthony Randolph once averaged 27 points in the summer league. Marco Belinelli averaged 22. Nate Robinson was so good in the summer leagues Vegas retired his jersey. Summer league success carries over about as often in the NBA as wiffle ball skill does in baseball.
Still, it was Holmgren Well. Liberated from a college system – did Mark Few know what he had with this guy? – Holmgren showed up. He started taking quick breaks. Finished them too. On one possession, he read a perimeter double team and found a cutting Jalen Williams. On another, he collected an offensive rebound and dove on fall. He repelled a dunk attempt by James Palmer and hit Kofi Cockburn with a broken ankle crossover.
“There are not many [flaws] in his game,” said Josh Giddey.
Giddey should know. A day after the draft, Giddey’s phone rang. It was Holmgren. He was in Oklahoma City and wanted to get some work. Giddey met Holmgren at Thunder’s practice facility. The two played one against one. Giddey says he’s impressed with the diversity of Holmgren’s game. “Fadeaways, dunking on me, all sorts of things,” Giddey said. Later, in team training, Giddey saw Holmgren’s defensive potential.
“Big boys can be inappropriate for guards,” Giddey said. “He’s not. He’s one of those guys who can sit down with guards, and he’s long enough to block shots in perimeters… I knew we had a special talent.”
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Holmgren is the most intriguing NBA prospect in years. He has the skills of an All-Star Guard and the frame of McLovin. At his best, Holmgren has the potential to further revolutionize the middle position. A pivot that can initiate a quick break and end up shooting a three? The reigning MVP tops the list of players who can. Might as well end it. The question is whether 20-year-old Holmgren’s body will give him the strength he needs to do it. Cockburn was bullied by him for a short hook in the first half and Fall pulled him into the paint at will.
“I’m not convinced he’s a star,” said an NBA assistant who sat on the sidelines for Holmgren’s debut. “He’s obviously an excellent shot, skilled, but he’s so weak physically. He can’t get past his defender and recognized that early on and settled for threes for the rest of the game. He’s so skinny in the hips and legs that he does [teammate] poku [Aleksej Pokuševski] looks like he has fat legs. I don’t think he will ever fill in. He’s going to have to make difficult shots this season to have a good year because he’s content with jumpers and can’t play indoors. He was able to use his length to block shots at drivers tonight, but NBA guys will just get into his body. He has a long road ahead of him.”
Oklahoma City understood the risk of calling up Holmgren. But they also saw the benefits, all of which were evident on Tuesday. Giddey says he envisions him and Holmgren forming a deadly pick-and-pop combo. “It’s going to be a nightmare for the teams that have to be guarded,” Giddey said.
Thunder coaches have encouraged Holmgren to take turns pushing the ball himself. “The thing that impresses you most about him is how tall he is, he’s a playmaker,” Woods said. “And in the modern NBA, you need playmakers everywhere. He fits that bill. So I would say his playmaking skills stood out. But again, I would come back to what’s most impressive for someone with the skills that he has is how much he wants to do it within what we’re doing as a team. And how much he can find on our offense alone.”
Oklahoma City isn’t worried about Holmgren’s body. At least not yet. Neither does Holmgren. Sitting on a makeshift pedestal — sideways as Holmgren’s legs couldn’t fit under a table — Holmgren says he doesn’t have a target weight for the start of the season. In fact, he’s wary of winning too much too quickly.
“I’ve never been someone who aims to hit this weight or that weight or bench 350 pounds,” Holmgren said. “I’m just trying to add power and make it want to be a better player. I don’t want to be so heavy that I don’t feel good. That I feel like I’m not moving as well as I did when I was lighter. I’m just adding strength. Weight comes with time and I’m just trying to find a good weight that I’m comfortable playing with.
Oklahoma City has a compelling roster. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising star at point guard. Lu there is one of the NBA’s best defenders on the wing. Giddey showed enough last season to believe he has the potential for elite points up front. In a few years the Thunder could be good. Holmgren can make them great if he fulfills his potential.
“I want to learn from every single experience,” said Holmgren. “Whether it’s good or bad, because the worst thing I could do is have a great Summer League and not learn anything from it. So just try to learn from every single experience, every single moment, every play, every film session, every shoot, whatever it may be, and try to push that forward.
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