By John Fanta
FOX Sports college basketball writer
Sam Presti has never been afraid to swing for the fences. That’s why he was quoted once PaulGeorge‘s documentary, which states, “Anxious money doesn’t matter.”
So it’s not surprising that Chet Holmgren has always been the name associated with the Thunder since the NBA draft lottery assigned Oklahoma City as the No. 2 pick overall.
The Thunder are betting that Gonzaga’s 7ft, 195lb unicorn is a generational talent, and with OKC owning four of the top 34 picks in this draft, it makes even more sense to bet on the big shot .
Why Chet Holmgren is a perfect match for Thunder
The 2022 NBA Draft had an unexpected 1-3 pick shift: Paolo Banchero to the Orlando Magic, Chet Holmgren to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Jabari Smith to the Houston Rockets. Joy Taylor reacts to the draft and explains why Holmgren is a perfect match for OKC.
Above all else, Holmgren’s rim guard pops out of the side, and that trait will immediately translate to the NBA. His 3.7 blocks per game ranked fourth in the country last season, and he was one of the best defensive players for the WCC Champion Bulldogs, who were No. 1 seeded and made the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
The idea that because Holmgren looks skinny he can’t assume physicality is uninformed and just plain wrong. The Minneapolis native possesses elite toughness and consistently sticks to defense. He also has great active hands that allow him to devastate an opposing player.
That defense is what kickstarts Holmgren’s offensive capabilities. With such long strides, the consensus second team All-American can get where they want to go quickly. According to Synergy, he converted 80% of his halffield attempts at the edge, the highest mark in college basketball.
What sets Holmgren apart from other prospects with size and speed is his perimeter play. He has great shooting mechanics and his confidence in his shot makes him a difficult opponent to defend against, especially since Gonzaga hit 39% from beyond the arc.
The Thunder have a clear need for size that allows for ground clearance, and they were frankly undersized last season when Isaiah Roby, Jaylen Hoard, Derrick Favors and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl tied the time five. Bringing in Holmgren fills that need perfectly.
Whether Holmgren becomes a franchise superstar for OKC depends on how his physique can withstand the physicality of the NBA’s 82-game marathon. It’s not that Holmgren isn’t ready to handle it – he’s extremely competitive – it’s whether his unique physique can hold up when big men enter him and make contact with his chest. He still has some weight to gain, but even then there’s still the question of how his respective frames fare in the league.
“He’s going to have to adapt and learn like any player, but I think he’s unique,” Thunder general manager Presti said after the draft. “If you really think about some of the best players in the NBA, and I’m not saying he is or will be, but I think sometimes uniqueness is an asset, and I think some of the things that make him unique, can be used and used.
“But it will be a process. He has to find out, and we have to find out, how he can create situations in which he can be successful. I am very confident that he will be ready, willing and able to put in all the work. That’s one of the things about him that was really attractive.
Holmgren is hoping to be the guy for OKC, which will also be looking for 23-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 19-year-old Josh Giddey to continue building. Gilgeous-Alexander finished 11th in the NBA with 24.5 PPG last season while Giddey made the All-Rookie Second Team.
“I feel like I’m a pretty good fit for them,” Holmgren said at his introductory press conference. “You can do a lot of things on the basketball court. Shai is known to be a really good scorer. He can get anywhere on the floor he wants without much help and Josh is a great passer. They both really shift that defense.”
Regardless of what exactly Holmgren becomes in the NBA, he’s already a crowd favorite for the fervent Thunder fan base and has been dying to call Oklahoma City home.
“Now that I’m here, I can officially say I want to be here,” Holmgren said with a smile upon being introduced. “This is a great organization, a great city and a great fan base.”
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of roles, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to commentating on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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