Minutes after he was selected number two overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Thunder’s Chet Holmgren downplayed a question he was asked about expectations for the upcoming year, saying that he just tries to live in the moment.
That mindset was true then, on one of the best nights of his life, when a thousand good emotions flowed through him. It’ll remain true this season as well, as he takes on each day of his season-long rehab from a Lisfranc injury in his right foot with poise, courage, and an optimistic outlook. A ferocious competitor, Holmgren will do what he does best – lay it all on the line with what he is able to do on and off the floor.
“At the end of the day, it's going to come down to me versus me in a lot of situations,” Holmgren said. “I'm going to be competing with myself every single day – competing with my mind to get through this rehab process and come out even better on the other end. That's what I plan to do. That’s my job.”
Holmgren's Mindset Moving Forward
There have been many high-profile top-3 draft picks who have missed their first season in the NBA only to go on to have prolific careers, players like Joel Embiid, whom Holmgren has talked to, as well as Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons. The Thunder organization, with such sustained stability and continuity, has the corporate knowledge of how to help players be connected after sustaining injuries as well. That includes Nick Collison, now in the Thunder front office, who missed his rookie year before going on to have a successful career with the team. Holmgren will have the chance to perform at a high level after missing time because this year he’ll get assimilated physically, mentally and emotionally to a totally different way of life – the difference between being an amateur and a professional.
“Having a year to learn the league, to experience the cadence of the league, to work on his body, to understand the personnel in the league and all the different schemes, that's going to be extremely beneficial,” Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti said.
Presti noted that one thing that the Thunder won’t be able to do this season is see how Holmgren slides in alongside core players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort. However, all three of those players in addition to Kenrich Williams and the 2021 and 2022 draft classes are all under contract for the foreseeable future and are competing to be a part of the next era of elite Thunder basketball. Seeing how Holmgren looks on the floor with those teammates is a tantalizing idea, and on a practical level the team would like to get those lineups exposure to NBA opponents, but that will all come in time.
“We're going to get to that,” Presti said. “We're just going to go a year without that, which is how sports goes.”
In the meantime, Holmgren will be making the most of this year – learning his teammates, studying film, lifting weights and refining everything that he can. During training camp, he's at the Thunder ION from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., then comes back in the evening to support his teammates through practices and "soak up the knowledge". He’ll attack the Thunder program every day as he would have without the injury. Even if the regimen is different than that of his teammates, Holmgren will enter each day with a focused mindset and clear objectives.
“I have a lot of goals – goals with every single workout, every single day, every week, every month,” Holmgren said.
“Any opportunity that I have to try and be a better basketball player going down the road in the future, I'm going to try and seize the moment and take advantage of that opportunity,” Holmgren added.
While Holmgren won’t be putting on a Thunder jersey in front of the raucous crowd at Paycom Center next week in the team’s first home preseason game, he has worn Oklahoma City across his chest before, even experiencing a Thunder training camp before Summer League in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. There, Holmgren started practicing some of the Thunder’s core values on both ends of the floor like relentless defensive energy and a selfless, five-man-out offensive system, both of which come naturally to the 7-footer.
Getting those on court reps in Summer League and some off court time with his teammates before the injury occurred allowed Holmgren to develop some crucial relationships. The connections off the floor that he’s made with the rest of his draft class – Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams, as well as the rest of the group, will also be a major asset for him as he grinds through the rehab process.
“Everybody's had my back through this, like I would for anybody else. It's been great to get to know my teammates. We have a very rare locker room full of guys that all mesh,” Holmgren said. “Hopefully that continues, we can get to know each other better and keep building chemistry.”
While much of Holmgren’s time will duly be focused on his own rehab, he’ll also invest in something that he’s done in every stop he’s made as a player – helping his teammates be their best selves. In high school, with Team USA, and at Gonzaga University, Holmgren had a knack for elevating those around him. This year he’ll try to take on the Thunder’s version of leadership – “the guy doing the right thing” – as well as serving as an extra set of eyes or a supportive voice.
“I view myself as a leader and a follower,” Holmgren said. “I'm following in the footsteps of everybody before me, around me and all the things that are laid out in front of me. I just have to show up and put in the work.”
Holmgren also views this year as a chance to connect with the Oklahoma City community – a place he’ll call home for years to come. He’s already gotten out and donated his as he signed autographs, took photos and even made some artwork with local children that were on site for the ribbon cutting of the basketball court the Thunder dedicated at Scissortail Park last week. Those moments of connection with the city are invaluable, and ones that can provide Holmgren some extra juice as he charges down his path this season.
“I just want to be a great example for the other guys around me, all the staff in the building every day right alongside me, as well as everybody in the community,” Holmgren said.