The Portland Trail Blazers’ forgettable 2021-22 season is in the books and it is time to turn our attention to the 2022 NBA Draft. Unlike recent years, Portland possesses multiple picks in this year’s process. After finishing the regular season with a 27-55 record, the Blazers enter the lottery draw with the sixth-best odds in the NBA. Buoyed by those odds, the Blazers are poised to exit the draft with the rights to a marquee prospect.
Today’s profile looks at Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren. In his lone season in Spokane, Holmgren lived up to the hype with his shot blocking and scoring touch.
- Height: 7’0”
- WT: 195
- Wingspan: 7’6”
- Shooting Hand: Right
- Position: Center
- Age: 19 (he turns 20 next week)
- Projected draft range: 1-3
- PTS: 14.1 | Per 40: 21.0
- BLK: 3.7 | Per 40: 5.4
- REB: 9.9 | Per 40: 14.7
- AST: 1.9 | Per 40: 2.8
- FG%: 60.7
- 3P%: 39.0
- FT%: 71.7
Holmgren’s NBA potential revolves around an extremely rare blend of size and skill. He is armed with the touch of a perimeter player, the length of a center, and the instincts of an elite two-way forward.
Defensively, Holmgren’s shot blocking shines. He erases opportunities and open lanes with lightning-quick speed. His length allows him close gaps and direct rejected shots to areas where they can be recovered. It is truly rare to see a player at his age, with his high-level shot blocking ability, direct blocks back to himself and teammates. Holmgren can reject shots with both hands and he avoids fouls in the process. Buoyed by his long stride, he is a master of sliding into over to erase shot attempts from a help position.
In space, Holmgren recovers quickly and corrals perimeter players effectively when switches occur. His active hands disrupt passing lanes and he feasts on traditional post players who have loose handles. Buoyed by a special blend of skills, Holmgren can guard all aspects of a pick-and-roll set. His versatility allows him to pick up multiple assignments.
In the paint, Holmgren’s tight footwork and long arms combine to make him a superb rebounder. He is constantly fighting to establish position when the ball is in the air. When a rebound is tightly contested, Holmgren makes it a point to snatch the ball with both hands. With one arm, he can control rebounds off three-point shots that would typically land in the backcourt.
Offensively, Holmgren is in a class of his own in terms of efficiency at the rim. He connected on a staggering 87.6 percent of his 89 attempts at the rim (per CBB Analytics). Like his shot blocking, Holmgren generates positive results with both hands. He has a soft touch on below-the-rim finishes and he gets above the rim quickly for big-time dunks. Holmgren is excellent at shielding the ball with his body. His ability to protect the ball generates a plethora of open looks and free throws. In post-up situations, He has also shown flashes of a filthy turnaround step-back shot.
In two-man actions, Holmgren is a force. He is a huge target in pick-and-roll opportunities. In pick-and-pop looks, his quick hips and solid shooting stroke supplies headaches for opponents. When establishing position to receive an entry pass, He masterfully works to get behind smaller opponents for lob opportunities.
Holmgren’s exploits in the open floor are truly impressive for his size. He quickly secures rebounds and turns up the floor. If defenders fail to stop his dribble, he will take it coast to coast.
Beyond the arc, Holmgren has a multi-faceted three-point arsenal. He is comfortable and efficient as a pull-up shooter in transition. In half-court sets, he spaces the floor with his catch-and-shoot ability. Following a slow start to the season, Holmgren connected on 50 percent of his three-point attempts in January and February.
Holmgren has excellent court vision and passing touch to go along with his scoring output. In transition, he can set the table for others as the primary ball handler. In half-court sets, Holmgren was a lethal playmaker out of the high post. He can thread the needle inside and find open teammates in the corners.
Yes, Holmgren is skinny. It has already been said a million times, and it will be said a million more before draft night. Holmgren’s lack of bulk actually impacts his game the most against smaller interior players with developed post games. Holmgren does an adequate job of using his length to form a wedge against big centers. When facing compact post players, he struggles to establish that same anchor.
In terms of his overall athleticism, a lot of Holmgren’s speed comes from his long stride. That is why he is so dominant in transition. That speed is mitigated slightly in half-court sets. In terms of creating his own shot, Holmgren has yet to develop a wide range of back-to-the-basket moves. On the perimeter, he does not attack closeouts. He typically takes an open shot if it is there or he looks to pass.
This year Drew Timme and Holmgren formed one of the most dominant frontcourt tandems in recent memory. Buoyed by their two stars, Gonzaga finished the season with a 28-4 record. Gonzaga secured two NCAA Tournament victories before a scrappy Arkansas squad sent them packing.
Nationally, Holmgren eared a spot on the Consensus All-American Second Team. In the West Coast Conference, Holmgren took home the Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards.
The discussion surrounding Holmgren is dominated by his frame. Seemingly every discussion starts with, “he must get bigger.” Holmgren will certainly add muscle and weight to his frame as he matures, but it’s important to remember that the majority of Holmgren’s strengths should translate without his frame filling out.
Holmgren’s shot blocking is built on timing and positioning. When he rises to alter a shot, it looks like time slows down for him. He picks his spots carefully and his length allows him to remain effective even after he concedes position. The same can be said about his rebounding. On offense, adding weight would help Holmgren on the block. However, his passing, three-point shooting, and ball handling do not require additional mass.
A false dichotomy has formed around Holmgren’s NBA potential in a most circles. It goes beyond the simple assessment that Holmgren must gain weight or else he will end up a bust. Holmgren has generational talent for a player his size. To be clear, he can boost his ceiling even further by adding size. But make no mistake, his current skills give him a sturdy floor.
The Blazers are going to need help in the lottery to get in the range to select Holmgren on draft night. If Portland does get in position, Holmgren has the potential to blossom into a franchise cornerstone. His defensive aptitude would unlock unlimited options for the Blazers’ coaching staff. Offensively, he is a perfect candidate to slide in next to a backcourt that features an abundance of scoring. Holmgren is equipped to operate as a secondary playmaker and floor spacer in that setting.
In the short term, Holmgren has proven he can play slightly out of position. He could earn minutes early in his career as a help defender and a tertiary option on offense. Defensively, Holmgren can to block shots and avoid fouls. That balance can take years to develop. Judging by his college output, Holmgren is ahead of the curve.
If Holmgren reaches his ceiling, he could provide DPOY-level shot blocking on defense and modern scoring on offense. Even if he falls short of that, Holmgren has several translatable traits that pave the way for an impactful NBA career.