By John Fanta
FOX College Basketball Sports Writer
Sam Presti has never been afraid to swing for the fences. That is why it was once quoted in Paul George‘s documentary that says “scared money doesn’t do anything.”
So it’s no surprise that from the time the NBA Draft Lottery selected Oklahoma City as the No. 2 pick, Chet Holmgren has always been the name associated with the Thunder.
The Thunder are banking on the 7-foot, 195-pound unicorn from Gonzaga to be a generational talent, and with OKC owning four of the top 34 selections in this draft, the pursuit of the big shot makes even more sense.
Why Chet Holmgren is a “perfect fit” for the Thunder
The 2022 NBA draft had an unexpected change in slots 1-3: Paolo Banchero to the Orlando Magic, Chet Holmgren to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Jabari Smith to the Houston Rockets. Joey Taylor reacts to the draft and explains why Holmgren is a perfect fit in OKC.
Above all else, Holmgren’s rim protection jumps off the page, and that trait will translate immediately to the NBA. His 3.7 blocks per game ranked him fourth in the nation last season, and he was one of the top defenders for the WCC champion Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 1 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The idea that because Holmgren looks scrawny that he shouldn’t embrace physicality is uninformed and just plain wrong. The Minneapolis native possesses elite toughness, consistently holding his own on defense. He also has great, active hands that allow him to wreak havoc on an opposing player.
That defense is what kick-started Holmgren’s offensive skill set. With strides this long, the consensus second-team All-American could quickly get to where he wants to go. According to Synergy, he made 80 percent of his half-court attempts at the rim, the best 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 tough matchup to defend, especially since he shot 39% from beyond the arc for Gonzaga.
The Thunder have a clear need for size that can spread the floor, and they were downright undersized last season with Isaiah Roby, Jaylen Hoard, Derrick Favors and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl splitting time at the five. Bringing Holmgren fills that need perfectly.
Whether Holmgren becomes a franchise superstar for OKC depends on how his frame can hold up under the physical nature of the NBA’s 82-game marathon. It’s not that Holmgren won’t be up for it – he’s extremely competitive – it’s whether his unique body can hold up when big men move into him and make contact with his chest. He needs to put on a little more weight, but even then the question of how his particular frame performs in the league hangs in the balance.
“He’s going to have to adapt and learn just like any player, but I think he’s unique,” Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, 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 beneficial 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 understand, and we have to understand, how to create situations for him to 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 it that was really appealing.”
Holmgren hopes to be the go-to guy for OKC, who will also look to 23-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 19-year-old Josh Giddey to continue building. Gilgeous-Alexander ranked 11th in the NBA with 24.5 PPG last season, while Giddey made the All-Rookie Second Team.
“I feel like I fit in pretty well with them,” Holmgren said at his introductory news conference. “They can do a lot of things on the basketball court. Shai is known as 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 change a defense.”
Regardless of what exactly Holmgren ends up doing in the NBA, he’s already a favorite of the Thunder’s passionate fan base, and he really wanted to call Oklahoma City home.
“Now that I’m here, I can officially say this is where I want to be,” Holmgren said with a smile as he was introduced. “It’s a great organization, a great city and a great fan base to be a part of.”
John Fanta is a national college basketball anchor and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from announcing games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary for The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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