Orlando Magic Draft Preview: Debunking the myths about Chet Holmgren

Chet Holmgren has polarized many fans and scouts. But there is a lot to his game ready for the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Chet Holmgren has polarized many fans and scouts. But there is a lot to his game ready for the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Mention the name Chet Holmgren among Orlando Magic fans right now and you are bound to get two answers.

One group will say Holmgren is the only potentially generational talent in this draft.

He is a mix of size of speed that is rare to find. You just do not see many 7-footers who can attack off the dribble and move as fluidly as someone like Holmgren. He has NBA range and should be able to fit in as the next generation of unicorns.

The other group will raise concerns about his size and ability to put on muscle.

While the league does not feature the bruising big men of the past, Holmgren will still have to deal with more physical players and the bruising endurance test that is the NBA season.

In essence, when it comes to Holmgren, it really is whatever you want to see. It is easy to overlook his flaws and get excited about his prospects. It is also hard to overlook some of his flaws too and wonder whether he can make it through the NBA.

Chet Holmgren is facing a ton of questions about what he can do when he gets to the NBA. What should be clear is that there is a lot he did not show at Gonzaga.

Beyond the questions of what will translate to the pros — a question that every college prospect faces in one way or another — Holmgren does a lot on the court. There is a reason he is under consideration for the top pick in the draft. And there is a reason why there is that current of excitement for him.

Each player at the top of this draft has a good case to go number one. There is no denying that or getting around that. And Holmgren has a lot going for him and a lot that remained hidden in his time at Gonzaga.

Holmgren averaged 14.1 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and 3.7 blocks per game for Gonzaga last year. He had shooting splits of 60.7/39.0/71.7.

The numbers all suggest Holmgren has all the tools to be a solid player. There are not many players who have the block numbers that he has — his 12.6-percent block rate compares to elite NBA college shot-blockers like Anthony Davis (13.7-percent) and Mo Bamba (13.1-percent).

But the big question that always seems to follow Holmgren is whether he can bring the shot-blocking to bear and withstand the physicality of the NBA.

Holmgren is listed at 7-foot, 195 pounds. That is extremely small and there is going to be a lot of work to help him put on weight.

His narrow shoulders are not giving a lot of people confidence he can put on the weight needed to bang around. He may always need a center standing next to him to take on those bigger players. And that creates some matchup problems for eventual playoff battles.

But what remains impressive about Holmgren is how he does not shy away from the contact despite his lack of size. That differentiates him from a lot of players like him (if there ever have been players like him).

It is inevitable that Holmgren will put on functional weight. Once he gets into an NBA weight training program, they will find a way to add strength and help him withstand some of the physical pressures the league presents.

Even at 190 pounds, Holmgren never backed down. Just take a look at how he performed in some key matchups.

Against Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams of Duke, he scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots without making one of his three 3-point attempts. He scored 15 points to go with six rebounds and four blocks in a win over UCLA and scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked four shots in a win over Alabama.

In the NCAA Tournament, Holmgren faced two of the toughest big men in this draft class. And while he struggled with fouls against both Memphis’ Jalen Duren and Arkansas’ Jaylin Williams, he got his licks in too.

Holmgren scored nine points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots in that win over Memphis. He took every hit Duren threw at him and still had enough to recover and challenge shots.

Against Arkansas, Holmgren scored 11 points to go with 14 rebounds and two blocks. Fouls kept him from making a bigger impact and that perhaps might be why Gonzaga ended up falling short.

In other words, a lot of Gonzaga’s story was teams trying to go after Holmgren and Holmgren not backing down and oftentimes making them pay for going at him. He never shriveled from these physical challenges, even if some of those players bumped him off his spot. He always came back.

That is one of the big takeaways from Holmgren’s season, as Andy Patton of Locked On Gonzaga told me on a recent episode of Locked On Magic:

That competitive fire is certainly a big piece of the Holmgren puzzle. And a big thing that scouts will like about him.

But there is also a significant portion of Holmgren’s game that has been hidden at Gonzaga.

All three of the top prospects had some usage issues in college to varying and different degrees. And a big part of that is because each played with a traditional, paint-bound center.

No player probably had it worse than Holmgren dealing with the context of his team.

He arrived at Gonzaga with a dominant college player in Drew Timme already in place. Gonzaga was going to continue running a lot of their offense through him and that would inevitably move Holmgren to the perimeter and congest his space to get to the paint off the dribble — the college game is already congested with its allowance for zone defenses and the shorter 3-point line.

Also working against Holmgren was just the generally poor shooting from Gonzaga’s guards. The Bulldogs needed Holmgren on the perimeter to space the floor effectively. Gonzaga shot 37.0-percent from beyond the arc overall and 41.0-percent from three in conference play.

But this struggle from deep became apparent in the NCAA Tournament when they struggled to get past Memphis and eventually lost to Arkansas. The Bulldogs made only 5 of 21 3-pointers in their loss to the Razorbacks in the Sweet Sixteen.

No player is going to benefit more from NBA spacing than Holmgren. A lot of the things he did at Gonzaga were just limited by space.

Pop in some high school tape of Holmgren and compare it to his college tape, and Holmgren looks like a completely different player:

In these highlights against Emoni Bates’ team from Michigan, you can see Chet Holmgren not only patrolling the paint as a complete menace at the rim but also running the floor and devouring space in transition as a cutter and as a ballhandler.

His greatest highlight and potential ability is this fluid movement in the open floor and attacking even smaller defenders off the dribble.

He did this on occasion at Gonzaga, but there just was not the space for him to showcase these skills at the college level consistently. He did it enough though for everyone to know it is there — watch specifically his block and transition play against UCLA from early in the season.

Creating an offensive that can take advantage of this athleticism and fluidity from a player this tall was just not a priority for Gonzaga and the program Mark Few was trying to build. There is almost certainly a bit of this hidden away for the NBA to discover.

That is, of course, part of the game with college scouting for the NBA. All the NBA scouts are trying to figure out how everything will translate to the NBA.

Holmgren obviously will have a lot of work to do to get himself NBA ready and make good on all the talent and hype. There is no guarantee that he will get there or that everything will translate as he continues to climb up the ladder.

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But there is plenty of reason to believe that what the world saw at Gonzaga is only a fraction of what Holmgren can do and that he can overcome concerns about his body to make his case to be the No. 1 pick.