Thunder fans have been making the connection between Chet Holmgren and Aleksej Pokusevski since the beginning of the season. The problem, though, is there’s simply no connection to be made.
The two players are lumped into the same category strictly because of their build. Maybe the only thing they have in common is that they are both tall and could use a cheeseburger or two.
Aside from a lone similarity, the differences are plentiful across the board. Holmgren and Pokusevski are polar opposite prospects on both sides of the floor. The similarity in size should not scare OKC fans away from the idea of Holmgren, as he’s a sturdier, signature cornerstone piece wherever he lands.
The sole reason Oklahoma City drafted Pokusevski was based on potential, and the mystery of the unknown. With Holmgren, it’s actually the complete opposite. While there’s some risk involved, you know what you’re getting with the big man from Gonzaga. At every level he’s played at, including globally, Holmgren has been a game changer on both ends of the floor and a generational shot blocker. He’s played against the top competition in the world and performed at the highest level. His potential is through the roof, and he will only continue to get better, but his skill-set is already there. Oklahoma City knows what it would be getting with Holmgren, whereas Pokusevski’s entire game was a complete mystery.
When diving into Pokusevski’s prospect profile, it’s quick to see his selection was based solely on potential. He was viewed as a unique, tall unicorn-type of player that showed flashes with his work on the perimeter. He was never able to dominate because of his size, but his flashes of potential were enough to warrant a first-round selection. One of the only pen-to-paper statistics of Pokusevski pre-Thunder were his 2019-20 international stats, where he notched 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds against questionable competition.
With Holmgren, the potential is higher, and the dominance has already been there at every level. Yes, picking Holmgren is also banking on his elite potential, but he’s a talented, game-changing prospect as he is right now. His skill set is already laid out, as he’s been developing his key attributes for years. While picking Pokusevski was solely based on offensive potential and basketball IQ, Holmgren’s offensive ceiling is clearly already higher than Pokusevski’s. He has power and force on drives to the basket that the Serbian simply doesn’t have, paired with a strong jumper too. Holmgren is also great in the pick-and-roll and would develop instant lob chemistry with Josh Giddey. He averaged 14.4 points on 60.7% shooting last season.
Holmgren also showed off a one-legged midrange fadeaway on multiple occasions for the Bulldogs, which could be a money maker in the NBA. He shot 39% from 3-point range, averaging over three attempts per night a 7-feet tall. He’s also comfortable with the ball in his hands in transition and starting the break.
In 14 games of conference play, Holmgren averaged 15.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. He also shot 62% from the floor, 50% from 3-point range and 80.5% from the free throw line. He’s also a very talented and willing passer, and was able to showcase it more in high school. He was on an elite team of creators at Gonzaga, and took a backseat in that category.
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Even though there are loads of potential on the offensive end, Holmgren’s calling card is as a defensive anchor. He was one of the best shot manipulators we’ve seen in the history of college basketball, whether that be blocking shots or altering them at the rim with his presence. The Minneapolis product was the best shot blocker in Gonzaga history, finishing tied for first in blocks in a season and setting the program’s single-game record with seven blocks in an NCAA tournament game. He’s looked at by scouts and front office members as a generational defender, which is hard to fathom given his frame. But, it’s the area where he differs from Pokusevski the most.
Over the past 12 years, Holmgren ranks fourth in all of college basketball for single-season defensive efficiency records. He was sandwiched between Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Caulie-Stein, and finished four spots higher than Anthony Davis.
There have been just 51 individual seasons in the past 30 years of college basketball where a player has averaged over 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game. Holmgren was a rebound away from a double-double, too, finishing the season at 9.9 per night. Holmgren’s 2021-22 season puts him in that elite category as a 20-year old freshman on a top three team in the country.
The questions about his frame are valid. He’s 7-feet tall and hasn’t cracked 200 pounds yet. But, if he’s already seen as a generational defender with loads of potential at his current size, his transformation could be something unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
The only thing comparable between Holmgren and Pokusevski is the frame. While they both need advanced development, and neither player is complete, it’s clear to see Holmgren is much further along in the process. And even though he's a fan favorite, Pokusevski has done little to remove the "prospect" tag from his name.
However, Oklahoma City is the perfect spot for both prospects, as they have the time they need to grow and develop individually and on the team. If the Thunder select Holmgren at No. 2 it will be a home run pick. Not only is Holmgren the opposite of Pokusevski, he's unlike any prospect we've ever seen before.