Grading the OKC Thunder starters: Chet Holmgren’s impact on the floor.
The Oklahoma City Thunder selected Chet Holmgren with the 2nd overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. At the time, people viewed Holmgren as this franchise-changing player. How quickly we forget, after a year of NBA basketball, back then, people questioned if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could be a number one option on the team. What would Josh Giddey become? The NBA did not know what Jalen Williams had in store for them, and many people argued Tre Mann was in line for a breakout season.
A year later, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become a top-five player in the league, named to the first-team All-NBA squad, an All-Star, and a superstar in just one season. Jalen Williams finished runner-up in Rookie of the Year. Despite not grabbing the headlines, Giddey showed significant improvement in year two, and Chet Holmgren still has yet to make his NBA debut.
After an impressive 40-win season that ended with a bid to the NBA Play-in tournament bid, the expectations have cranked up on the OKC Thunder. Though, they have dialed back on Chet Holmgren. Instead of being the franchise-changing player, Holmgren can just complement an already exciting young core.
Though, that will not stop the word “elite” from being thrown around involving Holmgren, and for a good reason; in this contest alone, Chet had five (5!) blocks. That rim protection was sorely missed a year ago. His ability to time his leaps, anticipate the decision from the driver, and avoid fouling while swatting away shots is generational. That gives Holmgren a ton of defensive versatility as he is inserted into an already spunky group on that end of the floor.
Offensively, Holmgren gives OKC a pick-your-poison element. Tonight against the Pacers, the Gonzaga product finished with 25 points, two assists, and nine rebounds in this contest. On top of the shooting gravity, which still sees defenders baring down on him with hard closeouts despite shooting a whopping 1-for-10 from distance, according to Synergy, Chet Holmgren puts so much pressure on the rim that it opens the floor for everyone else.
Not only is Chet Holmgren a great lob finisher, but as a pick-and-roll man, he is turning in a point per possession, finishing at the rim at a 75 percent clip. You either have to commit to rotating and stopping Holmgren or leave him with a matchup advantage. When the options for the defensive focus become Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, or Jalen Williams, defending the Thunder will take a lot of work.
The OKC Thunder selected Cason Wallace with the tenth overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and tonight the box score does not amplify the Kentucky guard’s impact. While the four points, five rebounds, and five assists do not immediately jump out at you, his playmaking chops and defensive ability stood out. Wallace and Jaylin Williams have built an excellent two-man game together. On the defense end, he forced the Pacers’ offense to sputter. Even when Indiana earned points, they were tough buckets.
The Oklahoma City Thunder used Jared Butler in more of a playmaking role going for seven assists in this one to go along with 18 points on 44 percent shooting from the floor, three steals, and a block. Butler showed his rim-finishing ability within the trees earning a few and-ones in this contest. The Twitter discourse around Butler was interesting after one missed chance to find Holmgren (on a play in which Butler scored), but three of his seven assists tonight came with Holmgren finishing off the play. The Baylor product also had a potential assist to Holmgren on a behind-the-back pass to the 2nd overall pick at the top of the key for an open three that did not fall. Overall, a really good game from the two-way hopeful.
Jaylin Williams did his job in this one, four points, four rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a lot of communicating on defense. The OKC Thunder big man has little to prove in the NBA Summer League, as his role is pretty defined. While tonight’s game was nothing special, it is better to be solid than bad.
The Oklahoma City Thunder knew it would take time for Ousmane Dieng to find his footing in the NBA. However, the fans were less patient. Despite Dieng’s rookie season being split up by injury and his progress tracking as expected, some fans were weary of the lottery pick.
This summer, Dieng has come back much improved. After a Summer League stinker to open up Salt Lake City play a week ago, Dieng has turned it all around. The former New Zealand Breaker has been building to this point. Dieng showed confidence, comfort, and aggression in tonight’s contest, which has been a long time coming for the OKC Thunder wing—something he has displayed all week sans one game.
Tonight, Dieng finished plays set up by others and created opportunities for himself. A game that started with an in-and-out above-the-break dribble move to free him up to slice through the lane and slam it home ended with a beautiful step-back triple as the perfect cherry on top of his best performance for the OKC Thunder organization.
Dieng wrapped up with 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and a steal and went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. The OKC Thunder have to be pleased with his 81 percent shooting from the floor and decisive play tonight.