Millions of people watched the NCAA tournament this past weekend and saw Chet Holmgren play for the first time. Holmgren stands at a towering 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, but he weighs only 195 pounds. He’s tall, long, and skinny like Bol Bol or a young Kristaps Porzingis. Holmgren is a dominant shot-blocker with quickness on the perimeter, plus the ability to finish lobs, shoot 3s, and pass. Shades of Holmgren’s game can be found in other college and NBA players past and present, but his complete package is truly one of a kind.
Holmgren is averaging 14.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, and 1.9 assists and he’s widely projected to be the first pick in the 2022 draft. NBA teams now have more tape of him playing in high-stakes games after watching Gonzaga win two games to advance to the Sweet 16. Holmgren’s performances—19 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks against Georgia State, but only nine points and nine rebounds before fouling out against Memphis—drew mixed reviews league-wide and on social media.
Those who didn’t like what they saw felt he was unable to take advantage of his height against smaller players on offense. Aside from the fact that he’s a skinny guy who obviously needs to get stronger, he also lacks an interior skill set as a post scorer. His body is unusual.
Aleksej Pokusevski is the only other player listed in league history to stand at least 7 feet but weigh under 200 pounds, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Players this tall and this lean often have injury issues. Against Memphis center Jalen Duren, another projected lottery pick, Holmgren’s lack of strength was exposed in the final minute of the game. With the ball and up three, Holmgren caught the ball behind the arc then drove to the basket but had no bag to reach into to get by the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Duren.
Holmgren did make something out of nothing with an interior pass to a cutting teammate, leading to a drawn foul. But he generated little space off the bounce, making the play a lot harder than it needed to be.
And on defense, Holmgren can get moved around inside against strong players like Duren. If Holmgren is the first pick in a draft with multiple strong options at the top, shouldn’t he be expected to become a stopper against Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Nikola Jokic? If not, then why are you picking him first?
NBA teams are split. Holmgren is talented, but some see him as more of a play finisher than a shot creator. Bigger challenges will come for Gonzaga, giving NBA teams an opportunity to learn more about Holmgren with a matchup against Arkansas on Thursday, then a potential rematch against Duke on Sunday if both win.
While most executives would rank Holmgren first on their draft boards right now, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, and Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr. are also in contention. Teams are concerned about Holmgren’s durability. His medicals will be key in determining his draft position. Joel Embiid once fell from the front-runner to go first to the third pick because of concerns about stress fractures in his right foot.
Of the 13 teams currently projected to land in the lottery, only Charlotte and Atlanta aren’t within a few games of potentially landing top-10 draft odds. In every season with flattened lottery odds, a team with seventh or worse odds has moved into the top four. The lottery results this year could change the course of the league. With more Holmgren performances on the horizon, here’s how I would rank his projected landing spots and best fits in the NBA.
1. Detroit Pistons
Draft odds (via Tankathon): third best, 14 percent for first, 52.1 percent for top four
Imagine if the Pistons could have Cade Cunningham running the show and Holmgren being his pick-and-roll partner. Holmgren could screen and pop for 3s, attack, or roll as Cunningham drove. Individually, Cade is already a hard-nosed wing defender. Holmgren would provide backline defense, giving them the potential to develop into one of the best duos in all of basketball.
Since Holmgren is so skinny, there’s a misconception that he lacks toughness. But he and Cunningham would be a great match because of the little things they both do. Here’s an example of a beyond-the-box-score play by Holmgren, whose presence in the paint first deters opponents from attacking.
With a midrange attempt in the air, Holmgren turns and rams into Duren for a hard box out, nudging him away from a chance at an offensive rebound. Holmgren has won at every level of basketball because of subtle plays that contribute toward winning.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Draft odds: fourth best, 12.5 percent for first, 48.1 percent for top four
Holmgren is an easy-to-imagine fit on OKC. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey are already tasked with primarily running the offense. Holmgren would be a great fit as the third wheel who can score off lobs and bang 3s, but also be a connective glue making plays from the wings, elbows, and on the roll, while occasionally by bringing the ball up himself. Who knows what Giddey, Pokusevski, and Darius Bazley will turn into for OKC, but Sam Presti is building a large team full of players who can all handle the rock. Before the Thunder fell apart in recent weeks, they had a borderline top-10 defensive rating. Holmgren could help keep them there.
3. Houston Rockets
Draft odds: first, 14 percent for first, 52.1 percent for top four
A young team like the Rockets could really use Holmgren. And one thing is for certain: Holmgren would bring greater effort than Christian Wood, who remains a talented big man but doesn’t set a tone for his teammates. Holmgren is someone who brings constant energy as a defensive anchor.
The duo of Holmgren and Jalen Green could turn into appointment viewing on League Pass, with Holmgren serving as the defensive anchor and Green fueling the offense. There’s even like a 1.7 percent chance they would become Gen Z’s version of Kobe and Shaq as a lethal scorer and a center unlike anyone else before him.
Wherever it lands, Houston needs to nail this pick. Green may not be enough of a playmaker for Smith to make sense as the choice, and Banchero’s bad habits at Duke might not go away for a team that’s still not ready to win. Ivey and Green would make a dynamic backcourt duo but both are score-first players. Holmgren could share the court with Alperen Sengun, who checks the type of boxes that Drew Timme does as a playmaking presence who can complement him. With Green in tow, though, Houston is one of best fits for Holmgren to grow with a young core.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Draft odds: eighth best, 3.1 percent for first, 14.3 percent for top four
The Pelicans actually have two chances of landing a top-four pick: with their own pick or the Lakers’ first, assuming Los Angeles loses in the play-in. With Zion Williamson already representing an injury risk on the roster, the Pelicans may prefer to go with a safer selection. But on paper, and if healthy, Holmgren and Williamson are an excellent match with CJ McCollum in the backcourt. Holmgren would provide much-needed defense and be surrounded by length on the perimeter.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Draft odds: seventh best, 7.5 percent for first, 31.9 percent for top four
If the Blazers end up with Holmgren, it would mark a chance to start winning right away. Assuming Damian Lillard stays in Portland, Dame and Anfernee Simons would provide Holmgren two stellar shot creators to play with. And next to lengthy defenders like Nassir Little and Josh Hart, the Blazers could start competing for the playoffs again. Perhaps Holmgren could be the bridge to the new era while also standing in as the partner that Lillard needs today.
Holmgren may not be physically equipped early in his career to handle the rigors of defending superstar bigs, or even stronger guys like Ivica Zubac. But Holmgren is active and invested, capable of causing problems. Boston utilizes Robert Williams like a sentry away from the ball who perfectly times his help in the paint. It’s easy to imagine Holmgren thriving in a similar role for a team like Portland.
Now let’s lump four teams together that could share a similar perspective on Holmgren:
6. Orlando Magic
Draft odds: second best, 14 percent for first, 52.1 percent for top four
7. Indiana Pacers
Draft odds: sixth best, 9 percent for first, 37.2 percent for top four
8. Sacramento Kings
Draft odds: fifth best, 10.5 percent for first, 42.1 percent for top four
9. San Antonio Spurs
Draft odds: ninth best, 6 percent for first, 26.3 percent for top four
All four of these teams have playmakers who can complement Holmgren’s ability as a finisher. For the Spurs, Dejounte Murray would make for an excellent two-way pairing. Some teams like the Pacers might need to reshuffle the deck if they take Holmgren. What would happen to Myles Turner at center or rookie Isaiah Jackson, who has shown promise? Maybe Smith’s shooting or Banchero’s shot creating would be a better fit next to Turner, Tyrese Haliburton, and Co.? Taking Holmgren might require moving Turner unless Indiana intends to rebuild with two bigs again. The same applies to the Kings with Domantas Sabonis and the Magic with their mixed bag of bigs (Wendell Carter Jr., Franz Wagner, theoretically Jonathan Isaac, and restricted free agent Mo Bamba). Holmgren could be a step up in the frontcourt, but Orlando would likely need to alleviate the logjam.
Two bigs can work. We see it in Boston with Williams and Al Horford. The Grizzlies do it with Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. And the Cavaliers have rolled this season with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen all playing heavy minutes. And Holmgren is used to playing next to another big after teaming with Timme at Gonzaga. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward saved Holmgren from shouldering the entire load down low, but his presence on offense also kept Holmgren from being a primary option on fadeaways off the dribble. Look at this sequence from Gonzaga’s win over Memphis where Holmgren gets a chance to shine after an action with Timme comes up empty:
Holmgren is more equipped than most, with moves from the midrange that use spins, hesitations, and simple pull-ups. If he can share the floor with an NBA version of Timme who can similarly make plays all over the floor while offering more interior bulk, then two bigs can work, with Holmgren focusing on the perimeter. Not all bigs are liabilities nowadays. That’s why Holmgren shouldn’t be ruled out for any of these four teams despite their existing size. Teams can choose only from the available talent, and there are a ton of larger players entering the NBA with this draft class.
10. New York Knicks
Draft odds: 11th best, 3.2 percent for first, 14.7 percent for top four
On paper, Holmgren is a good fit next to RJ Barrett. They’d thrive together on defense. Offensive fit is a bigger issue. New York’s lack of a steady point guard knocks them down this list. There’s also just too much Porzingis in Holmgren to subject Knicks fans to a potential rerun. Gonzaga doesn’t feed Chet the ball even when he has a smaller player matched up on him inside. Sound familiar? Chet has better playmaking skills than KP, but he’s still likely to be more of a finisher than a creator.
With that said, the Knicks should be full-out tanking to get into the running. Getting a high pick isn’t just about the odds of taking Holmgren, Smith, Banchero, or Ivey. It’s about being positioned with a high-value pick that could open up a world of opportunities. What if a proven star demands a trade? New York needs to have the assets to make an offer. Four teams are within a half-game of the ninth-best lottery odds, and New York is only 2.5 games back from San Antonio for the eighth-highest odds. Any losses for the Knicks the rest of the season are truly wins with guys like Holmgren available.
11. Washington Wizards
Draft odds: 10th best, 1.5 percent for first, 7.1 percent for top four
It would be hilarious to watch Porzingis and Holmgren share the floor. I can’t imagine it would be the best basketball fit, though—not when a shooter like Smith or a creator like Banchero or Ivey would also be available. Those players would also all represent better fits if Bradley Beal decides to stick around.
The order in which these prospects are selected will largely depend on how the lottery breaks, which we won’t know until May 17. This class is more situation-dependent than any other in recent years, which have featured stronger consensus choices. Each of this year’s top prospects bring vastly different skill sets that will make them the best prospect relative to each team’s own philosophy and roster.
Holmgren is the pick for a team willing to absorb some risk for the significant two-way upside he offers. With Gonzaga still alive in March Madness, Holmgren will have more chances to show off his potential.