SALT LAKE CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have been in rebuilding mode for a few years and added another play in the 2022 NBA Draft with No. 2 pick, 7-foot, 195-pound center Chet Holmgren. Many criticize his lightness and doubt that he can defend himself at the position at the NBA level.
His first test and Summer League debut came at the Salt Lake City Summer League on Tuesday night and on paper it was going to be a big test. Literally. The Utah Jazz came out on the court with one of the biggest frontcourts with 6-foot-11, 293-pound Kofi Cockburn and 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall.
Holmgren faced Cockburn early, not letting him back him down the lane. He continually used his footwork and length to block shots and avoided getting buried on the block. When Fall entered the game midway through the first quarter, Holmgren held him off and did everything he could to hold his position. The Thunder’s length and speed, along with Holmgren’s do-it-all performance, was too much for the Jazz as the Thunder comfortably took the win, 98-77.
“I just wanted to fight with them [Cockburn and Fall]”, Holmgren said after the game. “It was going to be nothing easy and everything was tough and trying to win the basketball game. At the end of the day, I wasn’t trying to get into personal squabbles or confrontations or trying to prove anything personally.”
“The game plan was to be aggressive with these guys in the position,” added Summer League head coach Kameron Woods. “Our team was going to have support behind him so he could be aggressive just being who he is defensively, and I think he did a great job fighting. He talked about wanting to be physical and coming here and playing a certain style on both ends of the floor, and I thought he did that tonight.”
Holmgren has made it clear he’s here to make a statement and won’t shy away from any competition. In years past, top players skipped games in Utah and waited to make their NBA debut under the lights of Las Vegas.
“I’m a professional basketball player who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and I’m going to put them on anytime and anywhere,” Holmgren said. “I had the chance to play tonight, and I never take that for granted. If I can play, I will play.”
Fans inside Vivint Arena were mesmerized by how Holmgren moved with the ball. Get in and out of defenders and shoot for 3 points in transition with Fall in his face. There were many ohhs and ahhs for Holmgren, who was called a unicorn-type prospect with his size, shot-blocking abilities and the way he moved with the ball.
At halftime, the Thunder had a comfortable 20-point lead and Holmgren had 18 points (4-for-5 of three), three assists and two blocks in just 14 minutes.
Holmgren led all players with 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists. The six blocks were an SLC Summer League record. It was Josh Giddey’s first return to the field after suffering a hip injury in February; he posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
The Thunder take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday before heading to Las Vegas for the 10-day Summer League tournament.