When Chet Holmgren was selected 2nd overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, he was considered a franchise-altering piece. The Oklahoma City Thunder were fresh off of a season that saw less than 30 wins, and some people questioned if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was an All-Star, much less a number-one option.
The Thunder were viewed as the black eye of the league, but a four-player 2022 NBA Draft class headlined by the highest selection of this rebuild was set to turn that around. Then, a lot changed.
Chet Holmgren missed the entire 2022-23 campaign, and while many thought it would sink their ship, the OKC Thunder instead were able to rattle off 40 wins. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander not only made the All-Star team but landed first-team All-NBA honors and showed he is, without question, a number one option.
Jalen Williams soared up the ranks, finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race, and everything clicked on an electric night in New Orleans that saw the Thunder win a play-in tournament road win.
That quickly changed the narrative around the Thunder, who rebuilt their image and now hold the reputation of possessing the best young core in basketball. Many expected the OKC Thunder to take a leap this year, and they, in fact, have to this point.
A star is born: Chet Holmgren arrives on the scene in Golden State to push the OKC Thunder into overtime and eventually pull out a win in the Bay.
This season, Chet Holmgren has been as good as advertised. Though he has mainly just been playing his role (and doing so incredibly efficiently!) but against Golden State, things felt different.
It was not just the turnaround buzzer-beating shot from the seven-footer to send the game into overtime and cap off an 18-point comeback just mere seconds after Andrew Wiggins hit what felt like the dagger on the other end. Still, it was how he got to his spots and, at times, carried the OKC Thunder.
We’ve seen this shot in OKC before. pic.twitter.com/ZDFCgt8gy7
— Rylan Stiles (@Rylan_Stiles) November 19, 2023
Chet Holmgren went for a career night with 36 points, ten rebounds, five assists, two steals, and as many blocks. Holmgren shot a jaw-dropping 63 percent from the floor and tossed in two of his five three-point attempts.
Holmgren’s ability to pick and pop makes the Thunder an extremely tough team to defend. When the big switch onto the ball handler, the guard can never recover or contest in time. Even if the guard spots the switch immediately, Holmgren’s ability to rise up and shoot over the likes of a Chris Paul is exactly what makes this so deadly.
So then, if you gear up to eliminate the pop, he is a fantastic roll man, diving to the rim with near-perfect angles and the catch radius that lets the Thunder loft the ball up to him where only he can get it.
Mix that simple Pick-and-Roll/Pop action with the fact he is a deadly catch-and-shoot option, knocking down those looks at a 49 percent clip this season, and you quickly see why Holmgren is a budding star.
In order to limit Holmgren, you have to close out hard, which leads him to use a devastating pump fake to earn a fly-by from his defender. Now, working off the dribble, he can either get all the way to the rim (Where he is shooting 69 percent) or utilize his playmaking to find the advantage as the help shades over to Holmgren’s dribble penetration.
Chet Holmgren is dominating as a pick-and-roll partner (1.333 points per possession), in transition (1.300 points per possession), on cuts (1.571 points per possession), and stroking spot-up shots at a 48 percent clip.
Even as an isolation offensive weapon, Holmgren is 4-for-8 in those situations. His impact on offense is easy to see, and when playing off of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as that relationship grows, it makes the OKC Thunder feel incredibly dangerous.
Defensively, he is contesting jumpers at a high clip, only allowing opponents to shoot just 36 percent over his outstretched arms and limiting the pick and roll when tasked with the roll man to just 0.714 points per possession, which grades out as excellent according to synergy.
You can see opposing players fear driving into the paint, panicking, bailing out, or outright getting swatted in the lane. The Gonzaga product averages over two blocks per game, with four games of over three swats, including a seven-block affair in Cleveland.
It is early, and Chet Holmgren is competing for headlines with fellow generational big-man prospect Victor Wembanyama. Still, his performance against the Warriors makes it clear Holmgren is a star.