Chet Holmgren is slowly finding his role on a young Thunder team

LAS VEGAS — Oklahoma City Thunder center and No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren played his third game of the NBA Summer League on Saturday night and was relatively quiet compared to his debut in Salt Lake City, where he put up 23 points. seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists.

Against the Houston Rockets, who also have a lot of youth, and the No. 3 pick, Jabari Smith Jr., the game went back and forth in the second half. The two top-5 picks got off to slow starts, but had flashes of why they were both top picks in the draft. Smith Jr. finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Holmgren had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks as the Rockets beat the Thunder 90-88.

“Jabari is a great player and we didn’t come out on top tonight, so we have to go back to the lab tomorrow at practice and watch film and figure it out and get better for the next game,” Holmgren said after the game. “I just try to go out and compete every single game, no matter who we’re up against.”

Unlike his first game in Utah, Holmgren struggled a bit on offense, especially when trying to take players off the dribble, committing four turnovers. Houston was switching everything up and the quickness between Holmgren and Josh Giddy was missing, forcing the duo to find other ways to score and be productive.

“Every game is different and tonight they changed almost everything, so I was trying to get out and throw a lot, but we’re working on our chemistry all around,” Holmgren told Yahoo Sports. “It helps a lot to play alongside a guy like Josh who sees the floor really well and gets his teammates involved.” It makes life easier for everyone.”

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is guarded by Houston Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr. during the 2022 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on July 9, 2022. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

During Holmgren’s one season at Gonzaga, adjustments were made every night trying to figure out how best to use the 7-foot playmaker in Mark Few’s offense. Holmgren would have nights where he came close to a triple-double, only to score six points the next game. His role will be different every night, and the Thunder have enough talent on the court to give him the freedom to impact the game in other ways, especially defensively.

“With a guy like him, it’s easy to get locked into one specific aspect of the game, good or bad for him, but he’s so unique and affects the game in so many ways,” Summer League head coach Cameron Woods said after the game. “His rim protection was great tonight and he opened up a lot of things for guys on the perimeter.”

At the start of the second half, Holmgren had some incredible defensive possessions that were incredible and brought a standing ovation from the packed arena. He blocked Josh Christopher and Tarry Eason trying to get to the rim and turned it into an easy offense in transition that ended with two dunks by rookie Jalen Williams. Holmgren’s presence in the lane is key for this young Thunder team, and he is the best rim protector in this rookie class.

“He protects the rim like nobody I’ve seen before,” Giddy said. “I know he’s got my back and we all know if we get beat, Chet will be there to help. We’ve only played three or four games together as a team and the more we play together the smoother his game, my game, everyone’s going to be.”

There is always a learning curve for rookies when they first enter the league. The distance is different, the pace is faster and there is more freedom on offense for iso situations. This young Thunder team has a lot of durability and talent and will be a fun group to watch this season. Holmgren’s role will be different every night. Anyone who still doubts he can be impactful at the NBA level will let his game speak for itself.

“I just try to learn from every single experience and every time we go out there, whether it’s good or bad, I try to take something from it and grow as a player,” Holmgren told Yahoo Sports. “Anyone who doubts that I can play this game, I don’t really want to say anything. I’d rather just tie them up and prove them wrong.”

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