NBA Summer league debuts are more often than not about adjustments, first looks, ugly shooting nights, and at times provide a warm respite from the hangover of the NBA Playoffs.
But then there are introductions like that of Chet Holmgren’s.
Holmgren wasted no time in showing why he was in the conversation of being the top overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 98-77 win over the Utah Jazz. In the 24 minutes he was on the court, his diverse offensive skill set was on full display and it was evident why many thought he could be an elite defender.
The Thunder held a comfortable margin by the first quarter thanks in part to Holmgren’s efforts and the former Gonzaga Bulldog’s numbers of 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and six blocks would have been even more stellar if the game were closer. But with the outcome having already been decided, OKC was wise to ease their franchise player into things.
Short as his time on the court may have been, there can be a lot of conclusions drawn. Of course, this is just one game and at summer league at that, yet the early returns should be exciting for the Thunder.
Holmgren’s ability to score from as far as behind the 3-point already makes him a tough cover, but how he blends it all together is a different thing altogether. The 2021 FIBA Under-19 World Cup MVP is effective when he has the ball from virtually anywhere at halfcourt but he can also bring the ball down like your typical point guard.
Whether he starts from inside or outside, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft has been able to draw defenses and can make the right ready to feed his teammates. Rather than focusing on the pass itself, it’s interesting to see that he knows WHEN to pass as the right timing can lead to better openings. Taken together, it’s a potentially beneficial cycle where they feed off one another and score points. So Holmgren being joined by the likes of Josh Giddey and Aleksej Pokuševski should help develop that in game settings.
This early, Holmgren has also shown flashes of moves that can make him virtually unguardable, a thought that definitely will get his coaches excited and opposing coaches rushing to draw up specific defensive plans.
The six blocks were a summer-league record and are even more impressive when you consider that Holmgren’s counting stats only tell part of the story. Despite his thin frame, the NCAA consensus second-team All-American can alter shots and force opponents to take tougher shots or go in another direction altogether.
The confidence in his abilities will only bode well for him, especially as this will help him continue to push on when things get more difficult.
When the regular season rolls in, though, OKC will have to decide whether to make Holmgren a full-time rim protector or give him a more part-time role similar to that of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley. That way, the Thunder can preserve Holmgren for the long run, especially as concerns on how he will handle stronger and perhaps even wiser opponents and maneuvering through an 82-game schedule remain and won’t be completely answered at the summer league setting. Case in point was when he was getting backed down by fellow rookie Kofi Cockburn and that’s something the OKC coaching staff will have to look into before it becomes more than an open secret.
Chet Holmgren got his summer league off to a good start and while that won’t definitively define his NBA career, it will certainly boost his confidence moving forward. Putting the 20-year old in situations where he will thrive will be the key to his and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s success (unless they want to take a shot at Victor Wembanyama first) and the Thunder’s opening win at summer league provided a blueprint for that.