SAN FRANCISCO — All things considered, there are probably only a handful of people on the planet who could have made the shot that Chet Holmgren drilled at the end of regulation to force overtime against the Warriors on Saturday.
As a 7-1 center, he had to be mobile enough to wiggle around a screen and get to the corner. His footwork had to be perfect enough to execute a full pirouette in front of the sideline — somehow keeping his massive sneakers in bounds, but also behind the 3-point line. He had to possess the 7-foot-6 wingspan to raise up and get the ball over the outstretched arms of Warriors defender Andrew Wiggins. Finally, of course, he had to have the feathery touch and unflappable moxie to hit nothing but net when a miss would have literally sent his team home with a loss.
Chet Holmgren, ladies and gentlemen. And let’s not forget he’s just 13 games into his NBA career.
The unfathomable shot was the signature highlight of the highest-scoring performance of Holmgren’s young career: 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks on 14-for-22 shooting, including 2-of-5 from behind the 3-point line in a 130-123 overtime win over Golden State. He became the first rookie since Luka Doncic in 2019 to put up at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a game.
The final 3-pointer of regulation will get the attention, but Holmgren dominated on the interior all night against the smaller Warriors bigs. Ten of his 14 field goals came in the paint, as he used his length and touch to score in a variety of ways at the cup.
One aspect that caught Thunder coach Mark Daigneault’s eye was how well Holmgren exploited mismatches off of switches. He even hit legend Chris Paul with a “too small” after making a jump hook over the 6-foot guard, just two nights after a clip of Paul pushing Holmgren out of the paint went viral.
“The Warriors play small, they’re switching a lot. The advantage isn’t going to be in my hands if I’m trying to be all pretty on the perimeter all game long,” Holmgren said afterward. “I can’t have too much pride, I guess, to get in there and get dirty, whether it’s getting touches in the paint or even fighting on the glass.”
It was the latest evolution in what’s been an unprecedented start to Holmgren’s career. No NBA player, let alone a rookie 7-footer, has ever averaged at least 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks for a full season on 50/40/90 shooting splits. After Saturday’s game, Holmgren was at 17.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 blocks on absurd 55/44/90 splits — so he even has some room for decline.
Decline, however, doesn’t seem likely.
At 21 years old, Holmgren is only getting better. Daigneault mentioned how he and the rest of the 9-4 Thunder are still learning how to best utilize Holmgren’s varied skill set. When asked about his game-tying buzzer-beater, Holmgren first pointed out a handful of miscues he made leading up to the moment. He also admitted to making some mistakes in execution early in his career, which he feels he’s already starting to improve.
“Early on, it was a lot of processing and taking things in, and sometimes I’d make a silly mistake here or there, just trying to think too much,” Holmgren said after Saturday’s win. “I feel like I’m finding my groove and really getting my understanding of things. The thinking is kind of just happening on the fly.”