The one thing anyone can say about Chet Holmgren is that he is not short on confidence.
The 7-footer is listed at about 190 pounds. He is all arms and can seem kind of gangly. Questions abound about how he will react to playing at the next level and dealing with the physicality of the NBA despite his undeniable skill and athleticism.
In a lot of ways, everyone sees what they want to see in Holmgren. He can be a generational player with skills no 7-footer is supposed to have. Or he could be the too-skinny big man that hints at the promise of a “unicorn” but will not be able to deliver.
Holmgren, though, knows exactly who he is what he can be. When he was asked who he thinks is the best player in the NBA, he did not blink. He thinks he will be the best player in two months once he hits the league.
No one can fault the confidence. And Holmgren is not short on confidence, star traits or pedigree. He is exactly what the Orlando Magic desperately need.
Holmgren’s freshman year at Gonzaga ended in the Sweet Sixteen after going 28-4 for the season. He finished with 14.1 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game, 1.9 assists per game and 3.7 blocks per game with 60.7/39.0/71.7 shooting splits.
Chet Holmgren made a major impact at the collegiate level and has all the signs of being the unique star the Orlando Magic need to build around with the No. 1 overall pick.
Incredibly, he shot the second-highest 2-point field goal percentage (73.7-percent) in NCAA history and sported the fourth-highest effective field goal percentage (68-percent) in NCAA history.
Holmgren blew away the competition if only comparing freshman seasons. These are staggering and historic efficiency numbers.
That was the case in high school too, where he teamed up with Jalen Suggs to win three state championships together at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis.
Holmgren led the U.S. to a perfect record and won MVP at the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2021, even beating likely top overall pick in the 2023 Draft, the similarly long-limbed Victor Wembanayama of France in the final. Holmgren averaged 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes in the tournament, imposing will and displaying competitive fire to secure the gold medal.
At Gonzaga last year, Holmgren’s defensive presence was always most evident.
He spent the majority of his efforts obliterating teams defensively with his length and timing around the rim. Holmgren led the entire NCAA in defensive rating — Gonzaga gave up 78.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, which is a comical number. He was fourth in the NCAA in blocks per game (3.7), easily the most among freshmen.
This is not the end to his statistical dominance.
Perhaps most impressively, Holmgren recorded a 14.97 box plus-minus, signaling his positive impact on the floor.
The history of this metric has proven it to be an excellent predictive talent evaluator. The five highest BPMs for freshmen in NCAA basketball since 2010 include Zion Williamson’s impossibly good 20.1 and Anthony Davis’ 17.2. No one else has been as good as Chet Holmgren, with Karl-Anthony Towns (14.3) and Evan Mobley (13.7) trailing him in the top five.
For comparison, Jabari Smith sported a box plus-minus of 11.1 (still very good, just not supernova elite) and Paolo Banchero had a box plus-minus of 7.7.
At the NBA level, any box plus-minus greater than 10.0 is considered an all-time season, so it shows how dominant Holmgren truly was while maintaining a role within his veteran team.
Holmgren’s excellence landed him an appearance as a consensus All-American, West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a variety of other regular-season accolades.
Still, plenty of questions remain about Holmgren. Everything he faces seems to be a test of his overall viability for the league.
His matchup against Memphis in the NCAA Tournament, more specifically against Jalen Duren, was considered by some a tarnish on Holmgren’s resume.
While it was a relatively disappointing game by Holmgren’s standard, he still certainly won his matchup against a physical specimen and likely Lottery pick who easily outweighed and outmuscled him.
This is perhaps the biggest detraction to Holmgren is his size, especially as he graduates to the NBA. But he more than held his own in this matchup.
He will have to figure out how to score despite this weakness. That was certainly a problem against Memphis and the stronger bigs at the college level were able to get him into foul trouble just as Memphis did in that game.
Still, it is hard not to marvel at Holmgren’s length, size and fluidity.
Holmgren is listed at 7-feet and 195 pounds with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. That allows him to change shots and make plays at the rim. He glides down the floor and is able to rise up and shoot off the dribble. This is not how 7-footers are supposed to move.
Chet is paranormal defensively. He is not a plodding traditional big—patiently waiting to be cremated by athletic guards and wings. He also is not a small-ball, switch-everything big.
He is the best of both worlds, a ghost.
Holmgren can hedge, switch, corral, recover, drop, whatever is needed of him. His rim deterrence and Rim defensive field goal percentage vs. expected field goal percentage are Rudy Gobert-esque.
His explosive interior burst and stunning body control allow him to contest shots that few others could. He forces down on guards, pushing the ballhandler to and through the baseline, causing offenses to drain precious shot clock. He is and will be a defensive force, period.
Chet’s high IQ and feel are on full display with how he blocks shots.
He times his blocks so beautifully and with such soft touch that he maintains possession. He is equal parts study and feel. Holmgren demonstrates clear knowledge of opponent tendencies and even their handedness.
Offensively, Holmgren is as unique and as versatile as everyone says.
He shot 39.0-percent from three on 105 attempts—most of which were on above-the-break 3’s. This is very encouraging efficiency and volume. He also drained a nice handful of smooth fadeaway midranges over the top of the defense.
Holmgren will be a weapon of mass destruction in transition for that reason and his ability to cut through the lane. The moment he sets foot on an NBA floor, he will be an elite grab-and-go big, able to take the ball up the court and push..
He also displayed the ability to flow freely in the secondary break, ad-libbing with the creativity of a seasoned comedian.
Holmgren also believes in his ability to create his own shot in the half-court at the next level. This is the offensive skill that still requires the most long-range projection.
For his size, his ability to put the ball on the deck is outstanding. He can attack closeouts and create high-efficiency looks toward the hoop.
Yet, his ballhandling and burst are not quite where they need to be to overcome the lack of physicality in his drives. He needs to improve handling the basketball with sureness to limit his turnovers.
Self-creating rim opportunities and midrange jumpers against pressure will take time, but the flashes are real. Holmgren possesses the touch — especially at the rim — necessary to become a true offensive star with immense and diverse scoring gravity as a roller, ballhandler, and shooter.
Holmgren is a magnificent ball mover and passer. He uses his IQ and quick decision-making to keep the offense humming. He wisely manipulates defenses, ensuring the nail defender is pulled out of his spot by hitting a couple of extra dribbles before his dribble hand-offs. He is very active, making backdoor cuts and putting pressure on defenses with and without the ball.
He is excellent at reversing the ball, hitting skip passes, as well as hit-aheads in transition. He flashed exciting interior passing ability and some short-roll prowess albeit in limited opportunity.
Holmgren often took advantage of his length hitting passes over the top of the defense, creating angles that would be unavailable to 99-percent of other players.
It is unlikely Holmgren will ever be able to be a surefire superstar No. 1 offensive option. He still possesses skill diversity, coordination and IQ to be a brilliant offensive player. Skeptics are unsure if he will ever be able to simply, “go get a bucket or get fouled” in the half-court of a playoff game.
He does not necessarily have to be that player to be a superstar in this league. Pairing his elite defensive ceiling with high-caliber and efficient shooting, ballhandling, put-back artistry and vicious transition game absolutely equates to an All-NBA player.
But that slender frame remains the big question.
The primary issue with his physical stature is not necessarily how thin he is, but how narrow his shoulders and hips are. His frame will not easily pack on functional strength.
There were instances of him getting guided off his spot by more physical defenders in college. And there will be many more superiorly built athletes to replicate this result in the NBA.
This is absolutely a concern, but anyone who does not think he will fill out naturally is simply embracing ignorance — every 20-year-old guy fills out. Natural physical progress will only be accentuated by Holmgren’s reception of world-class training and nutrition.
By all accounts, Holmgren is a highly confident and desperately competitive player. The minute Holmgren sets foot on an NBA floor, dudes are going to go for his neck. But if he has demonstrated one thing, he is built to demoralize his challengers.
The only major weakness for Holmgren as a defender is his previously discussed slender frame.
At times denser athletes, like Jalen Duren and Paolo Banchero, were able to get into Holmgren’s chest and create enough separation on drives that his length was nullified. Early in his NBA career, Holmgren will struggle to maintain verticality as barrel-chested guards/wings create contact in the half-court and in transition. Another concern is mammoth post-up centers attacking him in isolation.
Holmgren is simply not a boom-or-bust prospect. Observers must stop hanging onto the body narrative so tightly. His paranormal traits and near-spotless track record lay out an extremely clear high-median-outcome player with a sky-high ceiling.
Holmgren’s spacing, smart off-ball movement and fluidity would be a great fit in Orlando. He could pair well with Wendell Carter in the same way Mo Bamba did. He could also work well with the versatile forwards like Franz Wagner and Jonathan Isaac.
He would also allow for Orlando’s less-than-stellar shooters to flourish in space. Markelle Fultz’s dominant ability to knife into the paint and make plays will be perfectly accompanied by Chet Holmgren.
With Holmgren as the key to unlocking all the talent already in place on the roster, the Orlando Magic are legitimately ready to put the rebuild to death once and for all.