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Puzzle Pieces: Chet Holmgren Is The Versatile Big The OKC Thunder Have Longed For

Chet Holmgren would bring the Thunder major improvements at the center position.

Since the Oklahoma City Thunder fully bought into rebuilding two seasons ago, the roster has faced a frontcourt crisis. With the franchise filtering through multiple short-term centers – they enter the offseason still depleted of a long-term five. The 2022 NBA Draft provides the organization with filling this need for good. As for the fix, look no further than Chet Holmgren.

Holmgren, age 20, has been deemed the prized possession of this year’s draft cycle since high school. As the consensus No. 1 Prospect out of high school, Holmgren joined the then national champion Gonzaga Bulldogs for hopes of a back-to-back. The Bulldogs missed the prize, losing out in the Sweet 16, however, for Holmgren – his premier status has stayed intact.

After averaging 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks for Gonzaga this season, the center is in high consideration for a top pick in this class. 

At Pick No. 2, the Oklahoma City Thunder should take a hard look at Holmgren.

At 7-feet tall, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, Holmgren checks all of Oklahoma City’s boxes as a modern-day center. Though Holmgren comes in at 195 pounds, you’d never know by his physicality. Plus, with his skill set and the Thunder’s playstyle, he’s a perfect match in terms of pace.

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Offensively, Holmgren hands the Thunder dynamic play in ball screens that previous centers in Bricktown simply haven’t provided. With his slight frame, Holmgren carries a good deal of agility making him a piece who could set a high-ball screen for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, among others, and slip inside for entry passes or lobs. On the other side of the coin, he also does a great job fading to the three, making him a premier pick for setting screens. At Gonzaga, Chet capped the year shooting 39.0% from distance with a good deal of buckets coming off catch-and-shoot situations. You place him with Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, two ball handlers who are lacking a consistent three-ball, the spacing issue should be eased up in screening situations and isolations. To pan the flames further, Holmgren has found his stride working off of DHOs and coast-to-coast play as his ability to slash or shoot at the top-of-the-key have been a lethal combo.

One of the Thunder’s biggest Achilles heels throughout their history has been its weak defense on screens. With flat-footed centers such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter Freedom, and most recently Moses Brown manning the show, teams have centered attacks on setting relentless numbers of screens during play. League wide, these screen deficiencies have only been exploited further these last few postseasons. With Chet Holmgren, this strategy takes a big hit.

Holmgren is one of the top pick-and-roll defenders in this class as his combination of speed and frame allows him to play up on screens and recover ground on his assignment. If Holmgren has to fully switch onto a guard, he may allow them to turn the corner, but his long strides keep him in play for chasedown blocks. As for perimeter defense, he’s above average for the position. This versatility on screens patches up one of the Thunder’s biggest ongoing issues. But, his rim protection is even greater. Despite being slender for the position, Holmgren can contest shots around the rim flat-footed or recover for swats on the move. This is a big time plus for a team like the Thunder who’ve routinely let back-to-basket centers such as Naz Reid look like All-Stars.

Ultimately, the Orlando Magic will get the first say on if Chet Holmgren could land in Bricktown. However, if available, he brings patches holes the Thunder have been trying to fill up for years. And he does it on both ends. 

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