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Know the Prospect: Chet Holmgren

A poor man’s Kevin Durant, a rich man’s Pokuševski, or something in between?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Portland
Go-Go Gadget Arms
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

As a young reader in the early 1980s, I cut my teeth on Hardy Boys books from the local library. The stars of the books were Frank and Joe Hardy, and their trusty sidekick was Chet Morton. I didn’t know anyone with such an old-fogey name as “Chet,” but I didn’t know any Russells, either, and as a “husky” kid, I felt more of a kinship with the fictional fat friend than with the hunky leads.

One Chet who is decidedly not portly is Chet Holmgren, the lanky, seven-foot freshman who led Gonzaga to a 28-4 record this year. The Bulldogs were knocked out of the March Madness tournament by Arkansas, in a game that had the 19-year-old center fouling out on a couple questionable calls. Barring those, Gonzaga might have overcome their six-point deficit and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Gallons of ink and countless bytes have already been shed on Holmgren. In one season with the Zags, the young Minnesotan averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 boards, and 3.7 blocks per game. He employed his 7’6” wingspan for three (!) six-block games and two (!) seven-blockers this year. My arms are tired just thinking about all those swats. I asked Brian Johnson, Associate Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Binghamton University, for his opinion of the rejection master:

“At 7’0 there’s nothing he can’t do. He will be an All-Star in the NBA. He is skinny but his length makes up for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was picked #1 or #2, he is that good and special. He has an incredible upside to his game. I believe whoever gets him will be building around him for years to come. I haven’t seen a playmaker at his size in college since maybe Kevin Durant. He’s going to be scary at the next level.”

Brian’s assessment sounds right to me. Check out the season highlight reel and see what you think:

Indeed, Holmgren is a rare breed that can do some of everything. Despite weighing only 195 lbs, he is a remarkable rim protector who is willing to sacrifice his body. He’s an excellent finisher at the hoop, where he took 48% of his shots and made 81% of them. Chet can also play as a wing on offense, and the comparisons to Kevin Durant are legitimate: like KD, he has an incredibly high release and accuracy from any range (61% from the floor, 39% from deep, 68% eFG, 69% True Shooting).

For a big man, he is quick and crafty with alert eyes and nimble hands. Plus, he’s got pretty good handles for such a long-limbed dude. Notice how I’ve avoided calling him a unicorn because it’s become a cliché and yet is totally applicable in this case? Here goes Chet, who may have a sparkly horn in the middle of his forehead, dominating Georgia State with 19 points and seven blocks:

If awards impress you, Chet is suitably decorated. While at Minnehaha Academy, he was named Gatorade National Player of the Year, Naismith Prep Player of the Year, Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, and Minnesota Mr. Basketball. In college, Holmgren was chosen as West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year, a Wooden All-American, and Newcomer of the Year, among other accolades. Hat’s off to you if you read through all that.

His primary drawback is obvious: he’s too skinny and lacks upper-body strength. When imagining what Joel Embiid will do to him, the term “rag doll” comes to mind. However, a team might consider playing him at the four, as Lauri Markkanen does for the Cavaliers. Pair Holmgren with a stronger center, someone like Mitchell Robinson, and that would be a formidable frontcourt.

Here are his 2022 NCAA Tournament highlights:

Chet is projected to be drafted in the 1-4 range. The New York Knicks are currently expected to pick in the 11th spot, but let’s visit Hypothetical Corner for a moment to entertain this scenario: let’s say the Detroit Pistons back up the Brink’s truck for Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks suddenly have an opening at starting center, and New York somehow lands a top-four pick. Should they bite at Holmgren? Fast track Jericho Sims? Hang on to Nerlens Noel, if he hasn’t secretly retired from basketball? Roll with Taj Gibson until the wheels fall off?

Or how about this: the Knicks land a top-four pick and draft Holmgren to package him in a trade for a superstar—say, Donovan Mitchell. Might Utah want to run a frontcourt of Chet and Rudy Gobert? That would give Rudy the defensive support the Jazz have been lacking lately. And the Knicks would get that marquee guard we’ve been thirsting for.

Hey, it’s called Hypothetical Corner for a reason.

The first Hardy Boys adventure that I read was The House on the Cliff, in which sidekick Chet saw plenty of nautical action in a rowboat if memory serves. Flash forward about 40 years, and Chet Holmgren is likely to see plenty of action on an NBA roster next season. Whether this Chet has what it takes to be a leading man remains to be seen.