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What we've seen from Chet Holmgren this season

The Thunder have a franchise cornerstone and Kia Rookie of the Year candidate. How great has he been this season?

Chet Holmgren put on a show this season. We review the film and numbers.

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This article is part of a five-part series called “What We’ve Seen,” which examines the top candidates on the Kia Rookie Ladder and Kia MVP Ladder.

They had to wait a year, but the Oklahoma City Thunder clearly have themselves a franchise cornerstone in Kia Rookie of the Year candidate Chet Holmgren.

The Thunder have been the league’s most improved team in terms of win percentage and the second-most improved team in point differential per 100 possessions, having seen significant improvement in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And Holmgren is a big reason why. He’s second on the team in minutes played and has made a positive impact on both ends of the floor.

Here are some notes, numbers and film on what we’ve seen from Holmgren thus far:

All stats are through Wednesday, March 13.

1. Superlatives

A few things we’ll remember from Holmgren’s rookie season:

Most impressive game: It seems a long time ago, but Holmgren’s biggest night thus far came at Golden State on Nov. 18. He put up 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting, had 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes in the Thunder’s victory.

Most impressive milestone: It took Holmgren only 57 games to become the first NBA player (not just rookie) to reach thresholds of 150 or more blocked shots, 150 or more assists and 100 or more 3-pointers made. It’s a testament to his two-way value, his inside-and-outside game and his perfect fit so far with OKC.

Most impressive play: You can almost grab something off the video board on any given night, but we’ll go with his clutch buzzer-beater in the aforementioned win against Golden State.

— Steve Aschburner

2. Stats that tell the story

Go beyond Holmgren’s regular season averages — 16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks — to understand how good he’s been this season:

  • Holmgren has a true shooting percentage of 63.6%. That ranks 11th among 139 players with at least 500 field goal attempts and would be the highest mark for a rookie with at least 500 field goal attempts in NBA history.
  • He’s one of six players who’ve played at least 500 minutes and have more blocks (161) than personal fouls (158).
  • He’s the first rookie in the 45 seasons of the 3-point line with at least 100 3-pointers and 100 blocks.
  • According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Thunder have scored 1.245 points per possession when a Holmgren isolation has led directly to a shot, turnover or trip to the line. That’s the second-best mark among 84 players with at least 100 direct isolations, trailing only that of teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (1.250).
  • He’s defended 615 shots at the rim, second most in the league. Opponents shoot 52.8% when he’s at the rim. That ranks seventh among 71 players who’ve defended at least 200 shots there.

3. Film room famous

Holmgren isn’t as much of an anomalous spectacle as his main competition for the Kia Rookie of the Year award. But he’s a special talent, a 7-footer who can space the floor, put the ball on the deck and protect the rim.

Here’s some film showcasing Holmgren’s many skills:

His pick-and-pop game: The Thunder’s guards are attackers, led by the guy — Gilgeous-Alexander — who leads the league in drives per game for the fourth straight season.

So Holmgren, shooting 39% from 3-point range, is a perfect complement as a big who can screen for the guards and then give them space to attack.

And if his defender is in drop coverage to protect the basket, he can make them pay:

Chet Holmgren pick-and-pop 3-pointer

His finishing at the rim: Holmgren doesn’t just hang out on the perimeter.

He’s also a vertical threat, shooting 72% in the restricted area.

If his defender is higher with his pick-and-roll coverage, Holmgren can roll to the rim and finish over help:

Chet Holmgren reverse alley-oop dunk

His 1-on-1 offense: If defenses switch a pick-and-roll, Holmgren can take advantage of a mismatch.

He’s not yet strong enough to bury a guard or wing under the basket.

However, he’s got a smooth post-up game and the ability to shoot over the top:

Chet Holmgren post-up

His rim protection: Holmgren is generally in drop coverage himself, but is not necessarily conceding pull-up jumpers to opposing guards.

Here, Holmgren comes out high to prevent a Fred VanVleet pull-up, gets back to prevent Alperen Sengun from rolling to the basket, and then reacts to Sengun’s drop-off pass, blocking Jabari Smith Jr. at the rim.


Chet Holmgren block vs. Jabari Smith Jr.

His switchability: Holmgren hasn’t switched a lot of ball screens, but he does have the mobility to stay in front of a perimeter player after a switch.

This could certainly benefit the Thunder in the postseason:

Chet Holmgren defense vs. Franz Wagner

4. Closing Kia Rookie of the Year case

Holmgren will have one more head-to-head matchup with Victor Wembanyama: April 10 in Oklahoma City. But his candidacy is more about efficiency and team success and less about winning matchups or putting up big numbers on any given night.

The Thunder are on track to finish first or second in the Western Conference. They’re the only team that ranks in the top five regarding improvement in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

They have just two new guys in their rotation, one of them a 21-year-old who’s setting a record for rookie scoring efficiency while ranking as one of the league’s best rim protectors.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X. 

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