NBA Draft Review of Chet Holmgren: What I learned from watching every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound

Detroit Bad Boys

This is a part of our NBA Draft Prospect Review series where we evaluate the top players of the 2022 NBA Draft by reviewing every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound during their most recent collegiate season. Every writer was given access to game footage and asked to deliver their takeaways about the player in whatever manner they saw fit.

For being a consensus top-5 pick, Chet Holmgren sure is a polarizing prospect. As Jeremy Woo said recently on the Pistons Pulse, there does not seem to be a middle ground for people discussing Chet. His weight is a big deal to those who are not high on him, and his “unicorn” abilities on offense are what pro-Chet people use when they state his case for No. 1. In addition to this being a breakdown of his game, I would like to attempt to be a middle grounder when it comes to Chet.

Standing 7 feet tall and weighing in at 195 pounds, with a reported 7-foot-6 wingspan, Chet is the definition of lanky. I am just going to cut this criticism off at the pass and say Chet’s weight and strength is not that big of an issue. He faced Jalen Duren of Memphis, Mark Williams and Paolo from Duke, Jaylin Williams of Arkansas, Jaime Jacquez and Cody Riley at UCLA, and Tre Mitchell of Texas, all of whom are known for being big and/or physical. While Chet may have struggled AT TIMES to hold position, there is not a SINGLE time where his lack of size or strength got him played off the court. I will definitely highlight where he STRUGGLED, but to say his weight and/or strength is a major issue is flat wrong because the film SHOWS it is not.

So without further adieu, let’s look over Chet’s per game stats from this past season before diving into his game:

  • 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 3.7 blocks
  • 73.7%(!!!) from two-point range, 39.0% from three-point distance, and 71.7% from the free throw line
  • 69.1% True Shooting, 19.6% Total Rebound Rate, 12.6% Block Rate, and 21.6% Usage

Where Chet Holmgren Excels on the Court

I came into the year a Chet skeptic. Even into March, I remained low on him. Even now, I am not as bullish on his abilities as many are. Yet, he’s No. 4 on my own big board for a reason. Chet’s defensive impact is felt in every single game. 117 total blocks is good, but what is more impressive is that 12.6% block rate and the fact that he is one of the best players you will ever see when it comes to utilizing his length. Whether it was lining up opposite a bruiser like Jalen Duren or switching onto a mega athlete like JD Davison, Chet made it near impossible to get even a decent look at the rim.

A good example of Chet’s defensive impact is looking at the teams Gonzaga faced three times this season—Saint Mary’s and San Francisco. In the games again San Fran, Chet continually chipped away at Dons leading scorer Jamaree Bouyea and made him less and less efficient every time they played. In their first meeting on January 20, 2022, Bouyea shot 45% from the field on 20 attempts. The second time, on February 24, 2022, Bouyea’s percentage dipped to 40% on 15 attempts. And in their final meeting in the Conference tournament, Bouyea had a dismal 9.1% from the field on 11 attempts.

And for those of you in need of further context, San Franciso was 24-10 and the 10-seed in the East region of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Bouyea’s season shooting splits are 54.4% from two, 36.7% from three, and 75.5% from the free-throw line. Chet not only altered this in game one of the three matchups, but continually improved and adjusted to ELIMINATE Bouyea from the game by the time March rolled around. Oh, and did I mention Chet amassed 16 blocks JUST on San Francisco? I implore anyone to pull up this game film if you want to see a block party!

Against Saint Mary’s, it is less about the numbers and more about them basing their whole offensive game plan around avoiding Chet. This is most apparent in their second matchup where they kept Chet mainly attached to their stretch-four Kyle Bowen. Bowen averaged 3.0 attempts from long range all season, but in this matchup he launched 7 attempts from long distance. This was an attempt to draw Chet out of the paint and into scramble mode. This did help as it not only prevented Chet from being his best shot blocking self, but it also forced him into foul trouble, and he eventually fouled out.

Fast forward to the WCC Tournament and the Championship game. First, Gonzaga made sure to keep Chet on center Matthias Tass who is a screener and exclusively a paint scorer. And second, Saint Mary’s had to further scheme to eliminate Chet. They ran a lot of double screens ONLY on Chet to get his focus on the ball handler and then have a screener sneak up behind him to stifle and top him from defending the paint.

This is incredibly impressive, in my opinion, as Chet is such a problem on defense that the teams he faced the most either could not adjust to him or had to keep building whole new game plans to account for the fact he can stay with their guards on drives and stand his ground with their big men down low.

I also think Chet doesn’t get ENOUGH credit for being a great rebounder and cleanup guy down low. He almost always boxes guys out and finds a body any time he knows a shot is going up on either end of the court. Look back on some of those Saint Mary’s games and you will even see him switch out on to a guard, keeps his hands out to be aware of the big an around him rolling to the rim, and then alter the guard’s shot AND box out the big man because of how he kept his arms out and slid his feet.

These kinds of details led Chet to pull in 317 rebounds. That is a fantastic number and is even more impressive when you see this is 101 more rebounds than Drew Timme and 145 more than the guy in third place, Julian Strawther. More than a one-man block party, Chet was nearly a one-man rebounding crew as well.

While his assist and turnover numbers are dead even at 61 for the season, Chet does also flash passing vision not seen much in big men. For me, it is mainly on the break when teams scramble to keep him from getting to the rim, and as a short roller. These two things can be great mismatch points in a game plan, especially his short roll passing as we have seen how guys like Draymond Green can affect the game doing this even if the rest of his offense is almost non-existent. Not that I think can Chet to get to the level of Draymond (who is a player type unto himself), but the fact Chet does flash this ability on film is another great indicator.

Chet is also a fantastic dunker spot player. This is one of those things I think people use as a subtle way to put someone down— “oh he’s just a dunker’s spot guy because he can’t do anything else,” is usually the way in which this term is used in NBA Draft online discussions. Chet, found himself in the dunker’s spot and on cleanup duty a lot on offense and converted a lot of these opportunities into shooting 87.8% on 89 attempts at the rim and 66.2% on 68 attempts in the paint.

Those are INCREDIBLY high percentages for anyone in a dunker’s spot or cleanup role. And, really, Chet is an ideal guy in this spot with his energy and length to keep hustling and having the wingspan to stay above everyone. Just take a look at his shot chart and see that deep, dark red in the areas around the basket.

Shot Chart for Chet Holmgren’s 2021-22 Season at Gonzaga Courtesy of CBB Analytics

Areas Chet Holmgren Needs to Improve

Keep looking at that shot chart and you will begin to see Chet’s limitations on offense. He had few attempts between the paint and three-point distance—and even in his three-point attempts, 58% of those attempts came from only one area behind the arc.

While I am not going to say that Chet cannot shoot, I do not think his shooting is as sure of a thing as it is being made out to be. Why? Well, let’s take a look back at that shot chart. So that 58% of his attempts from three come from the very top of the three point arc. That is a positive sign, for sure, as that is the longest point away from the basket and he shot 37.7% there. But, if you remove that area and look at the remainder of his attempts is 44 total. He clearly has a favorite spot from three and did not launch more than 22 attempts from anywhere else in three-point land.

When you dive further into his season you will also see that his 39.0% for the year is inflated by a nine-game hot streak. From Jan. 8 to Feb. 10, he absolutely shot the lights out going 20-of-34 from deep which translates to 58.8%. When you remove these nine games and look at the other 23 games he played, however, he was 21-of-71 from deep which is 29.6%. He struggled mightily down the stretch in February and March, shooting a dismal 23.5% from down town in the final nine games of the year.

Just to reiterate, I AM NOT SAYING CHET HOLMGREN CAN’T SHOOT. What I am saying is what Coach Spins from The Box and One YouTube channel pointed out in his Scouting Report on Chet.

Chet Holmgren is a STREAKY shooter right now. He has a lot of technical work to do in order to fully unlock his 3-point shooting abilities. For me, I think part of the reason he struggled in the end of the season is that team’s started to close out more on him, and he did not have many easy looks. And as Coach Spins mentions in the video, Chet did not shoot it great with a hand in his face.

Chet also doesn’t have things like an effective drive game or side step to deal with these hard closeouts on his threes. This may take time for him to get better at as he looks incredibly stiff and mechanical when having to readjust his shooting position. And something noted in a few scouting reports out there, a LOT of Chet’s threes came as a trailer in transition at the top of the key. This MAY be a concern as he is getting up shots before the defense can get set, but they did go in and teams in the NBA that emphasize getting out in transition will love this one skill in particular.

Coach Spins also mentions Chet is 1-of-13 on pick-and-pops for the ENTIRE season. Yes that is a small sample size, but it is also not a great sign he only managed to hit ONE of those shots—and to me this also makes me question Chet’s screening abilities. In any of the film one can find out there, it is incredibly rare you see Chet being used as a screener. THIS is quite possibly the only area where his size will determine his effectiveness as it is incredibly hard to be a good screener when you are THAT skinny.

What I have seen on film in terms of his screening is inconclusive to say the least. Sometimes he will bump guards off their spot, sometimes they go through him like a wet paper towel. BUT, this may be less of an issue depending on the position he mainly plays in the NBA (which we will get to), and if he is utilized mostly as a short roller where his passing can open up more mis-match opportunities. So, while I am concerned with his inability to be a solid screener, I also acknowledge that a smart coach with find ways around this and Chet’s other skills can make up for it.

Finally, Chet’s ability to create his own shot in the half-court is the most uncertain aspect of his game. For me, right now my issue is that he is very predictable. His main attack in to drive to the right side of the basket and then spin back to his left to extend and get a layup or dunk. Smart teams began to figure this out later in the year as opposing bigs allowed him to drive in and avoid contacting him to get his spin started. Then a guard would come in as he was beginning the spin to snatch the ball away. The downside of him being so tall is that his dribble is high and in these situations shorter guys can easily get their hands on the ball.

Chet will have to develop some countermoves when he can’t get into his spin and he has to do something about his dribble to keep from being easily swiped.

There have been a lot of scouting videos out there that use one play in particular when trying to argue for Chet’s ability to attack off the dribble. In the aforementioned WCC Tournament game against San Francisco Chet attacks off the dribble with 10:37 left to go in the second half. He drives left, picks up his dribble at the left elbow and drains a jumper.

If you are using this clip as supposed PROOF Chet can attack off the dribble, congratulations on not only finding the only time he took that shot, but double congrats on finding the ONLY time Chet took a shot in that area of the court. Glance back at that shot chart and you will see a 1-of-1 in the left elbow area on the court. That is this shot. To put this another way, using this clip as highlighting Chet’s off-the-bounce game is a PROJECTION of a projection. He only managed to attempt 12 jumpers off the dribble and made four of them so what he can do in this area of his game is very unknown and inconclusive based on the film.

The Los Angeles Lakers played the Portland Trailblazers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on East

Photo by Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Does Chet Holmgren Have an NBA Player Comparison?

I think one of the things that make Chet so polarizing is that he DOES NOT have any easy comp. What I have heard as comps are guys that have ONE thing in common with Chet, but not much else. Porzingis is a lot bulkier than him and did get the ball more in the post. Poku is way quicker and has guard-like ball handling and live-dribble passing skills. Shawn Bradley was pretty immobile and a non-factor as a shooter and passer. And Ralph Sampson was THE man the minute he stepped on to a basketball court being the focal point of an offense when he was fully healthy. Quite frankly, I don’t think Chet has a one-to-one comp.

I see him as somewhere between Horace Grant and Larry Nance. For those not familiar with either player here is a brief rundown of both guys. The uncle of current Detroit Piston Jerami Grant, Horace had a fantastic 17-year career where he helped Michael Jordan win his first three titles in Chicago and then aided Shaq and Kobe win their second title in his 14th season. He was also All-Defense four times and an All-Star once. Nance had a stellar 13-year career where he was mainly known for leading the late ’80s and early ’90s Cleveland Cavaliers teams to unprecedented heights with some of their best seasons pre-Lebron. He was also a three-time All-Star, three-time All-Defense, and the first ever NBA Slam Dunk Champion.

The reasons I see Chet as a combination of these two guys can be boiled down to: size, main position, and not needing to be the focal point to make an impact. Grant measured in at 6-foot-10 and weighed 215 pounds. Nance was listed at the same 6-foot-10 but weighed in 10 pounds lighter at 205. They were lanky and undersized in an era that saw Charles Barkley and Karl Malone run the power forward spot, yet both Grant and Nance brought a unique skillset to the table to overcome this lack of size. Both guys were great jump shooters to complement their centers and superstar teammates—although in their era it was from 18-20 feet as the 3-point shot was de-emphasized—and could be considered floor stretchers similar to how Chet is viewed. And as evidenced by the all-defense awards, both guys were known for making a big impact on that side of the ball.

I also think Chet is MAINLY a power forward, like Nance and Grant, who bring an array of complementary skills to bulkier centers and who is best served staying away from the guys who will use their superior bulk against their lankiness.

Why I still say the combo of the two is that I can see Chet’s potential to be more of a scorer than Grant if he can do more attacking off the dribble, but also know he is NOT the level of athlete that Larry Nance was. Being a Slam Dunk Champ level athlete is NEVER going to be something Chet will have. Nance’s best seasons were putting up per game stats of at least 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Grant’s absolute best statistical season saw him post per game numbers of 15.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.2 blocks (this was his one All-Star season). I could see Chet statistically somewhere in the middle of that.

If I am being honest, though, I lean more in the direction of the Grant comparison because of the ability to impact the game without needing the ball. Not only did Grant help four teams hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, he was also a member of the 1994-95 Orlando Magic team that made it to the NBA Finals. It is no coincidence that Grant’s teams continually found themselves at the top of the mountain as his ability to fill in holes on defense and offense always made an impact on winning. I can see Chet being that same kind of player with some upside to boot.

Should Chet have 13-17 years like both Nance and Grant, I could see Grant’s best statistical season being what Chet averages with perhaps the blocks being higher as it is clear he is on a different level as a shot blocker.

Philadelphia 76ers v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

What Does Chet Look Like on the Pistons?

Coming into the year as a major Chet skeptic (some have even hurled the term “hater” at my caution with Chet), it may surprise some of you to hear that I actually think Chet fits perfectly with at least one Piston in Beef Stew.

We have seen that Stewart is a fantastic switch defender that can cause problems there, but is not much as rim protector. Insert Chet! Stewart can cause havoc on the perimeter and funnel guys to Chet where they are going to get their shot erased or kick it out to a teammate and hope they get a better look. Defensively, this pair would be exciting to see develop and would lessen the need for Chet to bulk up to try and handle opposing centers.

As far as his fit with Cade, Saddiq, and the rest of the team, the only issue I see is that he will HAVE to become a better screener and pick-and-pop threat as soon as possible to complement the current crop of shot creators on offense. I have hear many a DBBer say “The last thing I want the team to draft is another wing who can’t shoot,” well my equivalent to that is I do not want the team to bring in another big man who can’t set a good screen. Beef Stew definitely improved on this down the stretch, and I am CERTAIN Marvin Bagley’s ability to do this and catch lobs are what made us all give that trade two thumbs up. With Cade, Saddiq, and Killian Hayes being average athletes who operate and create space best out of the pick-and-roll, in my opinion, it is IMPERATIVE the team brings in more big men that can help out here.

If Chet could be a pick-and-pop threat, then that helps out a ton with guys like Killian and Hamidou Diallo as he can give them more space to attack. And this will also lessen the need for Beef Stew to develop a three-ball himself. And if I had to bet, I would still put Chet down for somewhere between 33-36% from three-point range even in his rookie year. As laid out in Coach Spin’s breakdown, there seems to be nothing mechanically wrong with Chet’s shot, but it is very streaky.

Thank you as always for reading all of our content here at DBB! Let us know what you think of Chet in the comments.

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