An unremarkable NBA Draft lottery has come and gone, with one team jumping and one team falling. Even then, the jumper reached fourth in what pundits call a three-man draft. The Magic, a non-franchise, goes first, followed by the Thunder and the Rockets. One of those teams will end up with Jabari Smith Jr., a huge shooter who, oddly enough, doesn’t score within 15 feet of the hoop, and another will catch Paolo Banchero, a big burly shot-maker who looks like an Aaron. Gordon more functional. The other team will almost certainly leave the draft with a rather polarizing prospect, whose strengths and weaknesses are apparent in his physique: Chet Holmgren.
Holmgren exists in what we can call the Pokusevski Zone, a tier reserved for players over seven feet tall but under 200 pounds. Naturally, this attracted a lot of attention. “At 7-1 and just 195 pounds, will he be more injury prone? Will it withstand the pounding of a routine NBA game multiplied by 82? asks John Hollinger of The Athletic.
“Yet there is still a contingent of NBA evaluators who seem more skeptical than usual about how quickly Holmgren will fill up and by how much,” ESPN says, noting, “Surely Holmgren thinks he’s struggling. with the physicality of greats like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic when they play off the post.
“[A]As exciting as his physical tools are, his future depends on how his absurd framework matures,” writes The Ringer.
“The main concern with Holmgren’s game centers on his slender frame,” writes NBC Sports, along with virtually every other media outlet writing about Chet Holmgren.
Holmgren’s thinness is a valid concern to bring up when discussing a player who could be first overall in the draft, although I don’t think it should be touted as a permanent feature rather than something that will be dealt with when he is drafted next month. Now consider Holmgren’s twiggish predecessors. If you look at the last 15 years of lottery picks, you find 10 guys who were considered problematically skinny when they were drafted: Kevin Durant, Corey Brewer, Anthony Randolph, John Henson, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Brandon Ingram , Mo Bamba, Thon Maker and Evan Mobley (You can expand the pool and add someone like Tyrese Haliburton, but he’s a keeper.) It’s worth focusing on lottery picks at the expense of other boys of first-round noodles like Poku and Bol Bol and Austin Daye, to maintain sample size within a group of players who have produced at the college or international level despite their executives. Of the 10, only two really busted (Maker and Randolph), while everyone but Ingram got seriously pumped up.
Durant is famous for not being able to make a single rep at the bench press in the 2007 NBA Draft Combine, and now he’s listed at 240 pounds. Anthony Davis has gained nearly 70 pounds since he was 17. Giannis Antetokounmpo was not taken in the lottery and also grew three inches after being drafted, although his physical transformation is probably the most remarkable in the NBA. Randolph was never good at basketball, despite gaining over 30 pounds. While it’s fair to fear that Joel Embiid will support Holmgren and send him flying into the third row with a shoulder thrust, it’s a bit unfair to think that the current version of Chet Holmgren is a fixed quantity. Plus, Embiid does this to everyone.
There has never been a prospect quite like Holmgren. Physically speaking, he looks more like Pokusevski than any other player, although Holmgren has a pretty serious track record as a game-changing defender, a reasonably skilled attacking player and a surprisingly tough player for someone so lanky. . He averaged 3.7 blocks and shot 39% from three, which is a pretty unholy combination of stats. As The Ringer’s good Holmgren profile notes, Holmgren is not a nervous athlete like Durant or Antetokounmpo, but he is a very physical player. He is not the type to melt on contact, he seeks it out and fights. That, to me, is a good sign that his already formidable defensive instincts will serve him even better at the next level after he adds weight. According to ESPN’s draft guys, NBA talent evaluators are pretty split on Holmgren, with some seeing the production as nonsensical and others missing it as they watch a guy fit like that. Holmgren really is a visually alarming person, so while it’s understandable to focus on his avian frame, I think doing so at the expense of all the other things that make him special is getting stuck in the wrong place. Plus, there are benefits to being so thin. His feet and joints support less weight, and he will improve inside once he gets bigger. He will be fine! He eats food!