By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
Sam Presti has never been afraid to swing for the fences. It’s why he was once quoted in Paul George‘s documentary saying “scared money don’t make none.”
The Thunder are betting on the 7-foot, 195-pound unicorn out of Gonzaga to be a generational talent, and with OKC possessing four of the top 34 selections in this draft, going for the big splash makes even more sense.
Why Chet Holmgren is a “perfect fit” for Thunder
The 2022 NBA Draft had an unexpected shift in the 1-3 slots: 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 fit in OKC.
Before anything else, Holmgren’s rim protection jumps off the page, and that trait is going to translate immediately in 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 a No. 1 seed and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The idea that because Holmgren looks scrawny, he therefore must not embrace physicality is uninformed and just wrong. The Minneapolis native possesses elite toughness, consistently hanging in on defense. He also has great, active hands that allow him to wreak havoc on an opposing player.
That defense is what starts up Holmgren’s offensive skill set. With such long strides, the consensus Second Team All-American can get to where he wants to go quickly. According to Synergy, he converted on 80% of his half-court attempts at the rim, the best mark in college basketball.
What separates Holmgren from other prospects with size and speed is his perimeter game. He has great shooting mechanics, and his confidence in his shot makes him a difficult matchup to defend, especially since he hit on 39% from beyond the arc at Gonzaga.
The Thunder have a clear need for size that can space the floor, and they were frankly undersized last season with Isaiah Roby, Jaylen Hoard, Derrick Favors and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl splitting time at the five. Bringing in Holmgren fills that need perfectly.
Whether Holmgren becomes a franchise superstar for OKC depends on how his frame can hold up under the physicality of the NBA’s 82-game marathon. It’s not that Holmgren won’t be willing to handle it — he’s extremely competitive — it’s whether his unique body can last when big men move into him and make contact with his chest. He has to put on some more weight, but even then, the question of how his particular frame pans out in the league is in the balance.
“He’s going to have to adjust 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 that he is or will be, but I think sometimes unique is beneficial, and I think some of the things that make him unique can be leveraged and utilized.
“But it’s going to be a process. He has to figure out, and we have to figure out, how to set up situations for him to be successful. I’m very confident he’ll be ready, willing and able to put in all the work. That’s one of the things about him that was really attractive.”
Holmgren hopes to be the guy for OKC, which will also look for 23-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and 19-year-old Josh Giddey to keep building. Gilgeous-Alexander ranked 11th in the NBA in scoring at 24.5 PPG this past season, while Giddey made the All-Rookie Second Team.
“I feel like I fit in pretty well with them,” Holmgren said at his introductory press 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 that he wants to without much help, and Josh is a great passer. Both of them really shift the defense.”
Regardless of what exactly Holmgren ends up being in the NBA, he is already a crowd-pleaser for the passionate Thunder fan base and really wanted to call Oklahoma City his 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. “This is a great organization, great city and great fan base to be in.”
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
Get more from National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.