When Chet Holmgren suffered a season ending foot injury earlier this summer, fans began to worry that the 7-footer's frame wouldn’t be able to stand up against NBA competition.
The second overall pick’s stature was a major talking point during the pre-draft process, with many echoing the same sentiments about Holmgren’s weight. Fortunately, he does not have a history of injuries, which is likely a good sign for the Thunder big man.
Those who chose to be optimistic however, pointed at the success of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Oklahoma City native Blake Griffin.
Griffin was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, but would be sidelined until 2010 after suffering a knee injury in the preseason. Like Holmgren, the Clippers top pick dominated the offseason, taking home Summer League MVP honors.
Griffin, however, had already dealt with injuries, suffering an MCL tear as a freshman at Oklahoma.
Despite two knee surgeries, Griffin was unstoppable when he returned to the floor. In 2010-11, the former Clipper averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game en route to winning rookie of the year and earning an all-star bid the same season.
While Griffin has had many bright years, his career has also been riddled with injuries. The former dunk contest champion has only played one full season in his 13-year professional career.
Moreso, the veteran big man’s play style is completely different than what it once was. Griffin’s remarkable strength and leaping ability once made the 2009 Wooden Award winner a nightmare to match up against in the paint. After an assortment of knee injuries, the Net’s center was forced to adapt to a different role on the team.
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For Holmgren, this is less of a concern. The Gonzaga product uses length and skill to his advantage, whereas Griffin relied more on his elite athleticism.
Another previous success for Holmgren to look to is 76ers star center Joel Embiid. Embiid, at one time the projected top pick, slid to third overall after a foot injury required the former Kansas to big man to undergo surgery that would cause him to miss his rookie season.
Embiid’s injury situation went from bad to worse; the Cameroonian big man was forced to sit out the entire 2015-16 season due to a setback from his previous injury. The next season, the dominant center only made it through 31 games before undergoing season ending knee surgery.
Embiid was astonishing in his first 31 games, averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game to go along with a monster 2.5 blocks per game. The 2022 MVP runner-up hasn’t looked back since, reaching totals of 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game last year.
Thankfully, Embiid hasn’t dealt with major injury concerns for the past five years, but the five-time all-star has never played more than 68 games in a season.
Griffin and Embiid both found success after recovering from their season-ending surgeries, each was an NBA First Team All-Rookie selection and has since garnered multiple all-star and playoff appearances. This should be a beacon of hope for Thunder fans, illustrating that there is a route to redemption on the court for players who suffer injuries early in their careers.