Height - 7’0
Weight - 195 lbs
Wingspan - 7’6
Over the last few years, Sam Presti has prioritised adding big skilled players. In the 2020 Draft, he took two jumbo playmakers in Aleksej Pokusevski and Vit Krejci. In 2021, Presti then took Josh Giddey, a 6’8 point guard.
Presti has always erred on the side of size. His picks in the past include the likes of Terrance Ferguson and Josh Huestis, two lengthy athletic wings who could jump out of the gym. However, his approach has changed over the last few years and Sam has begun to value skill more highly. Chet Holmgren fits the Thunder’s model to a tee.
Holmgren is a 7’0 center who moves fluidly and with real pace. He is a co-ordinated, agile big man whose skill-set fits neatly with the current requirement of centers in the NBA. He can defend the rim and defend in space without much trouble.
Holmgren was truly dominant during his time in college. His advanced stats go some way to explain his impact on Gonzaga basketball. His win shares per 40 minutes was .294; the average mark is 0.100. Holmgren raised the ceiling for a team that was already exceptional.
Chet joined a Gonzaga programme with experienced winners such as Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard and Julian Strawther. He outplayed all of them and raised the level of Gonzaga’s play.
Holmgren’s greatest strength is his defensive versatility. Chet is an elite rim protector whose timing allows him to swat away shots and get his teammates running in transition. Coach Few often used Chet as a weak-side helper on defense and it was a role where he excelled. Holmgren would rotate middle and use his massive wingspan to deny all shots near the basket.
He was also very comfortable with defending the rim straight up and in those situations, Chet maximised his physical attributes. Holmgren would absorb contact, stay vertical and completely wall off the hoop. I also thought that his positioning was very good when Chet was anchoring the defense.
It is pretty common for young, athletic bigs to chase every single block even if they sacrifice good positioning. Holmgren avoids this temptation and uses his length to close out angles. By closing the angle, he forces the slasher into a difficult finish and lessens the efficiency of their shot attempt.
Moreover, Holmgren has the speed and fluidity to switch coverages and guard in space when he is matched against a small. He was rarely beaten in these match-ups and used his long, lanky strides to stay in his assignment’s jersey. This skill should translate to the NBA level and I think Holmgren’s only weakness in switch coverages will come against speedy, explosive guards.
Holmgren’s combination of size, speed and skill means that he is able to defend every single pick and roll coverage. He can drop, hedge, switch and flash seamlessly. That versatility makes the coach’s job significantly easier and would allow Coach Daigneault to get more creative with his schemes.
The other point worth noting is that Holmgren is a disruptive defender who creates plenty of transition points. It is not uncommon to see Holmgren block a shot, dribble the ball up the floor and dish to a teammate cutting to the basket. Transition baskets are some of the most efficient shots in basketball and are a possession type which should be maximised.
Holmgren is also a fantastic deep shooter, 39% for the season. His shooting touch challenges the defense to step out and guard him at the 3-point line. For a team like the Thunder, a five-out lineup could be very useful to have particularly in the postseason where open space becomes a premium. A 7’0 center with an efficient jumper is nearly unguardable.
The only concern associated with Holmgren is his size. Chet is very skinny for his position and may find life difficult against stronger centers such as Steve Adams, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Holmgren is a tough competitor who competes on every play but that strength disadvantage is very difficult to overcome.
That being said, I do not think his rail-thin frame is that much of an issue. Holmgren’s length should still allow him to contest shots and keep his match-up relatively even. We have seen high-IQ players such as JRE manage disadvantageous match-ups effectively by being smart and holding their position. I do not see why Holmgren cannot do the same.
Chet is the unquestioned No. 1 pick in this Draft and the Thunder should take him if lottery luck falls in their favour.