SALT LAKE CITY – The Oklahoma City Thunder has been in rebuild mode for a few years now, adding another piece to the 2022 NBA draft with No. 2 pick, 7-foot, 195-pound center Chet Holmgren. Many criticize his frail stature and doubt he can hold his own at NBA level.
His first Test, and Summer League debut, came Tuesday night in the Salt Lake City Summer League and on paper it would be a big to test. Literal. The Utah Jazz took to the field with one of the biggest front courts with 6-foot-11, 293-pound Kofi Cockburn and 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall.
Holmgren got into a fight with Cockburn early and didn’t let him back into the track. He constantly used his footwork and height to block shots and avoid being buried on the block. When Fall checked in midway through the first quarter, Holmgren kept him off the block and did everything he could to hold his position. The Thunder’s height and speed, as well as Holmgren’s all-in-one performance, were too much for the Jazz as the Thunder comfortably took the win, 98-77.
“I just wanted to fight them [Cockburn and Fall]’ said Holmgren after the game. “It was going to be nothing easy and everything hard and trying to win the basketball game. In the end, I wasn’t trying to get into personal feuds or matchups or try to prove anything personally.”
“The plan was to be aggressive with those guys in the post,” added Summer League head coach Kameron Woods. “Our team would have support behind him so he could be aggressive, just defending who he is, and I thought he was doing a great job just fighting. He talked about wanting to be physical and come out here and have a certain style playing on both ends of the floor, and I thought he did that tonight.”
Holmgren made it clear that he was here to make a statement and that he wouldn’t shy away from any competition. In recent years, high-profile players have sat outside games in Utah, waiting for their NBA debut under the bright lights in Las Vegas.
“I’m a professional basketball player who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and I’m going to hook them whenever and wherever,” Holmgren said. “I was lucky enough to play tonight, and I never take that for granted. If I can play, I’ll play.”
Fans at Vivint Arena were fascinated by the way Holmgren moved the ball. Weaving in and out of defenders and pulling up for three-pointers in transition with Fall in his face. There were countless ohhs and ahhs for Holmgren, who has been called a unicorn-like prospect with his size, shot-blocking skills and the way he moves with the ball.
By halftime, the Thunder had a comfortable 20-point lead and Holmgren had 18 points (4-for-5 out 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. This was Josh Giddey’s first time back on the field after a hip injury in February; he posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
The Thunder will take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7pm ET on Wednesday before heading to Las Vegas for the 10-day Summer League tournament.