Among the top prospects in the NBA draftthere isn’t a more polarizing one than former Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren.
When speaking with personnel around the league, there’s a greater sense of certainty in the kind of players former Duke forward Paolo Banchero and Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. will be at the next level.
There seem to be more differing opinions surrounding Holmgren — mainly because players with his skillset and size are rare.
“With Chet, [there are] skills a big man normally doesn’t have,” Ryan Blake, who’s helped direct scouting services for the NBA since 1996, said in a recent phone call with the Orlando Sentinel.
Holmgren’s combination of rim protection, defensive versatility, handles, touch near the rim, basketball IQ and floor-spacing ability for his size make him one of the more distinctive prospects in a while. There are beliefs he could become the type of player who could excel at anchoring a defense while being an offensive focal point.
At the same time, there are concerns about how Holmgren will manage the NBA’s physicality on both ends of the floor with his slender frame (7 feet, 190 pounds) and whether he’ll become the type of offensive creator usually expected from top picks.
The Magic should have a better idea of answers to those questions after their basketball operations leadership met with Holmgren on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the June 23 draft.
He completed all pre-draft protocols with the Magica league source told the Orlando Sentinel, though the details of those protocols were not disclosed.
Holmgren dominated in transition, which accounted for 22.7% of his offensive usage (1.40 points per possession), according to Synergy.
He has the ability to operate as a rim runner as well as lead the fastbreak as a ballhandler, displaying comfort taking the ball up the floor coast to coast or pulling up from beyond the arc with accuracy.
Holmgren is a spot-up threat, a good cutter (1.46 points per possession) and should operate more as the roll man in the pick-and-roll more frequently in the NBA than he did in college (8.5% usage). He made good decisions as a passer out of the post and on the move with Gonzaga.
Defensively, he’s light enough on his feet to guard on the perimeter, does a good job staying vertical when contesting shots and has the size/length (7-foot-6 wingspan) to protect the rim even when he doesn’t block shots.
He should get stronger once he’s in an NBA team’s strength and conditioning program and also improve as a self creator. Whether he’ll improve in both areas enough to turn those concerns into strengths remains to be seen.
Holmgren averaged 14.1 points (60.7% from the field — 73.7% on 2s, 39% on 3s), 9.9 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and 1.9 assists in his lone season with the Bulldogs. He was named a second-team All-American and the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
His potential is evident.
And with his size and versatility on both ends, he would fit into what the Magic already have and potentially help make them an elite defensive team down the line because of his presence.
But Holmgren’s uniqueness has created uncertainty about the player he’ll become.
For the Magic, that’s part of the job — projecting not only who the prospects are now as basketball players, but who they will be.
“[Holmgren] can make a difference on both ends of the floor,” Blake said. “[He] can score and create … knows the game [and] makes others better.”