Chet Holmgren entered Tuesday night with a bar raised higher than seen before. And no, it wasn’t due to his unprecedented frame.
Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in last month’s draft, donned his Thunder hat with years of colossal expectations. As the consensus No. 1 recruit throughout high school, the top target entering the NCAA Tournament, and one of the most unique prospects to hit the draft pool – all eyes were locked on the 7-foot-1 big.
Holmgren locked eye-to-eye with Utah Jazz center Kofi Cockburn in his official debut. With a 98-pound weight advantage pointing towards Cockburn, an interior test was awaiting Holmgren. Seventy seconds into the game, Holmgren swatted Cockburn’s post-shot against the glass, batting the ball over the backboard for good measure.
Minutes later, Holmgren stood toe-to-toe with Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6, 311-pound center. Off a screen, he launched a triple over Fall’s 8-foot-4 wingspan – the shot was good. One minute later, the 20-year-old cashed in on a near-identical shot.
By the game’s first nine minutes, Holmgren was sitting at 13 points, and heading towards the history books.
Holmgren concluded Tuesday night’s meeting with the Jazz tallying 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks, and four assists.
Let’s break down the weight of each statistical category:
In the scoring department, Holmgren exuded confidence.
As a near 40-percent shooter from distance, the expectation was Holmgren would play sidekick to Josh Giddey on high-ball screens. He did just that, and even more. By the end of the first frame, Holmgren had downed three triples, a breakaway jam, and a pair of shots at the line – there was no adjustment period for the big man.
By quarter No. 2, the Thunder maintained a steady 20-point lead, but he elected to pan fire to the flames. Highlighted by a Dirk-esque turnaround fadeaway, he bottled the first half with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
For reference, Thunder center Jeremiah-Robinson Earl, who started 36 games last season, has a career-high of 18 points. Holmgren matched that record in his first 11 minutes with a Thunder jersey.
He put on the breaks in the second half, hoisting up a paltry two shot attempts. However, the stat line says it all – 23 points in 24 minutes.
Holmgren’s offensive dominance had been established from the jump. While the Thunder’s surrounding core shot a combined 4-of-23 (17.3%) from three, his four makes from distance likely dictated the Jazz’s playbook as they hardly crowded the paint.
When he chose to attack the basket, he was also a hard puzzle. With little-to-no help, Holmgren absorbed contact around the cup for baskets and foul shots alike. Holmgren tended to fade off of screens, however, there was plenty of daylight inside for him to slip towards the rim.
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While Holmgren’s rebound total didn’t shatter records nor lead the team (Robinson-Earl led with 10), he did hold firm against some valiant competition.
Due to his slight frame, constant doubts have berated Holmgren in terms of interior play. On the boards, Holmgren kept a lid on Cockburn and Fall, holding them to seven and four rebounds, respectively.
Despite missing on a double-double, Holmgren made both centers, particularly Fall, a non-factor in this game to the point you’d think he was 50+ pounds heavier, not the other way around.
You cannot put a block radius on Chet Holmgren.
Holmgren made his name defending the basket at Gonzaga, recording almost four blocks per game as a Freshman. While his swats came against all different shapes and sizes, there was some doubt as to if he could defend against larger bodies.
He wasn’t picky about the player, he hosted a block party throughout the night.
Holmgren’s rejections initially drew in big-time reactions. From his aforementioned block on Cockburn to meeting Fall in the paint – there was plenty of excitement when the center etched a block. Then, the commentary crew got used to the seven-footers shenanigans, disregarding Chet blocking Fall under the rim, for the Jazz center’s putback.
By that point, Holmgren had seeded himself in the record books, too.
Holmgren finished the evening with the most blocks in Utah Summer League history at six swats. He found his stride on all facets, meeting posted-up centers at the rim, closing out at range, and denying an attempted posterizer from a guard. Even then, the six blocks won’t tell you the entire story.
He showed elite levels of discipline in his debut, holding out for three fouls in his course of play. Virtually everyone looked to fish for the whistle, but most Jazz shots were tuned out – being altered by Holmgren’s sweltering contests.
In a package deal, Holmgren earned another accolade, becoming the first player in Summer League history to post four made threes and five blocks in a game.
Holmgren did not flare up in the assist category, but he made all four of them count.
While Holmgren’s handle in transition was not too tight on Tuesday, he had excellent decision-making skills in the motions. In his peak snippet, Holmgren swatted a shot, snagged the ball, blew past his man off a behind-the-back, and was off to the races. With commitment on himself, he dished a no-look pass to lottery teammates Jalen Williams for a quick and-one.
The halfcourt also treated Holmgren kindly. Manning the top-of-the-key, Holmgren peered over defenders to loft passes to the interior and move the ball around the perimeter – both netting open looks.
It’s hard to gauge how often Holmgren handles the ball next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey next season. However, the cleared-out interior opened a flurry of backdoor opportunities and buckets attributed to Holmgren.
Holmgren will have the chance to raise the bar tonight as the Thunder face the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 pm CST.