You can hardly utter a single word of praise about a young prospect’s Summer League performance before being berated by NBA Twitter’s loyal minions. Summer League performance has traditionally shown little to no correlation to a player’s NBA success, so to gush about a 20-year-old’s domination against summer rosters full of has-beens and never-will-bes has been dismissed as shortsighted and unfair.
Forget that noise.
If you can’t appreciate what Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren did on Tuesday night in his Summer League debut, you have no business watching NBA basketball. In a 98-77 win over the host Utah Jazz on the first night of the Salt Lake City Summer League, Holmgren dazzled fans in the arena, watching at home, and following on social media by putting up 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks, four assists and a steal in almost 24 minutes. The No. 2 pick in last month’s draft was also extremely efficient, shooting 7-for-9 from the field, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range.
It was an absolute masterclass from the gangly 7-foot, 195-pound 20-year-old, whose six blocks broke the Salt Lake City Summer League record. He also became the first player to ever put up six blocks and four 3-pointers in any NBA Summer League game. Holmgren’s tantalizing two-way skill set, which made him the top overall prospect on many draft analysts’ boards, was on full display on Tuesday night — step-back 3s, open-court ball-handling, playmaking, rim protection, transition finishing … even a one-legged Dirk Nowitzki midrange fadeaway for good measure.
You might look at Holmgren’s single-game blocks/3-pointers record as some arbitrary, cherry-picked stat, but don’t be so quick to scoff at it. That combination of rim protection and floor-spacing is extremely rare at any level of basketball, and is why Holmgren was such a coveted prospect. Since the NBA began recording blocks in 1982-83, a player has only put up at least four 3-pointers and six blocks in a game 18 times, according to Stathead (shout out to Raef LaFrentz, who did it three times!).
Again, this is not to say that Holmgren is going to go out and average a bunch of 3s and blocks once real NBA games start, but just the fact that he has the skills to do it, and has already shown it can translate against professionals, reveals his tremendous, unique ceiling.
Adding to Holmgren’s jaw-dropping debut was the attitude he showed afterward. As one of the most Instagram-famous recruits of his generation, Holmgren is used to being in the spotlight and has always presented a swagger and confidence befitting of his status. Having just been informed that his six blocks set a Salt Lake City Summer League record, Holmgren responded, “Only six? That’s a record? Well, I’m coming to break it again.”
I mean, come on. This isn’t a kid who’s just happy to be here. This is a kid who wants to be an all-time great, and who flashed the skill set to do so in the only pro game we’ve ever seen him play. Whether he ends up being an All-Star or fading into basketball oblivion, that’s something worth celebrating.
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Holmgren and 19-year-old Josh Giddey (who put up 14 points and 11 assists in 23 minutes on Tuesday after a phenomenal rookie season) showed why OKC has engaged in one of the most egregious tanking efforts in NBA history over the past couple of seasons. Between them, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort, the Thunder have built a legitimate young core that fits together wonderfully on both ends of the court.
You can expect the tanking efforts to continue for at least one more season as the Thunder, along with several other teams, will contend for the services of consensus 2023 No. 1 overall prospect Victor Wembanyama. But when OKC finally decides to start winning games, there’s going to be no shortage of talent, and Holmgren might be the best of the bunch when all’s said and done.