For the majority of the last year, there has been a consensus top four players for the 2022 NBA draft: Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey.
Smith, a 6-foot-10 forward, led the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 42%. Banchero is Duke’s go-to guy and helped close out the win over Michigan State to reach the Sweet 16. Ivey is one of the most athletic guards in the draft and averaged 20 points in the first two rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament.
Holmgren is putting up solid numbers this season, averaging 14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game. He had even more of a presence during West Coast Conference play, recording eight double-doubles and, at times, he took over games. Even in games against tougher, Power Five competition, he didn't fill out a stat line, but that’s not necessarily giving NBA scouts any pause on Holmgren as a top draft prospect.
Yahoo Sports spoke with several NBA scouts to get a feel for Holmgren as a draft prospect.
“His intangibles are off the chart,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “He’s so unique physically with all the other skills and abilities and if you’re willing to take that home run swing, he’s totally worth it.”
Against Memphis in the round of 32, Holmgren didn’t exactly dominate the paint; he had nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes. He’s undoubtedly an elite shot blocker and has great length at 7-feet with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, but his 195-pound frame will be the biggest question mark for teams come draft night.
“Physically, he’s scary as hell, but basketball is a game of versatility and he’s the most versatile player in the draft” another NBA scout said.
“It’s the same thing we heard about Kevin Durant when he was entering the NBA. He can’t lift 135 pounds, but he can shoot the hell out of the ball and impact the game. Chet can have the same impact in a game on a different level than Durant,” one NBA scout said.
Holmgren has been hearing he’s too skinny his entire career, yet he continues to find ways to impact the game.
“Most of the people that tell me I’m too skinny are people on Twitter and have never seen me play basketball in person or understand basketball to begin with,” Holmgren told Yahoo Sports in 2020. “At the end of the day, I’m not too worried about what they’re saying. I’m just going to do me and keep working on my game.”
How to project Chet Holmgren at the NBA level
The Gonzaga center has been called a one-of-one prospect. There hasn’t been a player quite like Holmgren, and it’s hard to draw any NBA comparisons or project what he’ll be at the next level.
Some say he’s a mini Kristaps Porzingis or similar to Oklahoma City Thunder center Aleksej Pokusevski. There have even been some similarities drawn between Holmgren and Rookie of the Year front-runner Evan Mobley, but there’s something a bit different that sets Holmgren apart. He has a unique feel for the game and can handle the ball like a point guard. To see him play in person and take defenders off the dribble is pretty remarkable.
One of the lingering questions for NBA teams is, who does Holmgren guard at the next level? He can’t bang in the post with Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. So does he play the four and guard guys like Pascal Siakam and Draymond Green?
“He’s going to have to guard the opposing team’s four. There are only a couple guys in the league that are true low-post players, and I see him more of a weak-side shot blocker instead of a guy you’re asking to guard a low-post big,” an NBA executive said.
“Forget about who he guards, who guards him?” one NBA scout countered. “The game has changed, and it’s not about getting it inside anymore; it’s about getting it outside.”
When Holmgren has the ball in his hands off the post, it completely disrupts the defense.
“He definitely has an advantage on offense and he’s going to be able to exploit players because if you put a typical center on him, it’s not going to be easy to guard a guy who can shoot like Chet and has ball skills for his position,” another scout added.
Holmgren has a unique style of play. He might appear undersized and take hits from stronger players, like Memphis’ Jalen Duren, but he always bounces right back up.
He’s never dealt with serious injuries, and that’s important when evaluating top prospects. Even if he misses a block or gives up two points, he’s going to make up for it in other ways, like tipping a rebound to the perimeter for a 3-point shot if he doesn’t have the inside position. Those are stats no one sees, but they still impact the game.
On a team like Gonzaga with so much talent, it’s the glimpses of what he could be at the next level that NBA scouts are looking for, and Holmgren has delivered. In the first three minutes against Memphis, Holmgren challenged a 6-foot-11, 250-pound Duren at the rim twice and forced three missed shots.
There’s never been a prospect like Holmgren, and for NBA teams hoping to rebuild a franchise, Holmgren could be the key. Regardless of his size, his versatility on the court and natural feel for the game have NBA scouts intrigued.
“If Holmgren ends up on the right team and the right situation, a few years from now, no one will be mentioning his size again. He can have that much of an impact on a team,” an NBA scout said.