Checking in with the OKC Thunder rookies at the mid-season mark

The OKC Thunder rookies have helped elevate this squad, grading the trio at the midway point.

Dec 29, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) and Denver
Dec 29, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) and Denver / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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Chet Holmgren

Chet Holmgren has fundamentally changed the ceiling for this team. It can be hard to define what  “perfect-fit teammates” look like. Players that complement each other’s skills, elevating both to astonishing heights. Magic & Kareem. Stockton & Malone. I believe that for Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren is close to perfect. 

Holmgren sets screens and pops to the line like he’s Isaiah Joe. His shooting ability functions like a magnet, pulling rim protectors away from the paint and leaving open runways in their absence.  His on-ball skill set is still limited, but that hasn’t stopped him from executing lethal step-through post moves complete with off-the-glass alley-oops.

Chet Holmgren has a commitment to verticality in his shot-contesting. There’s no way to track this, but I feel certain that he leads the league in blocks made with two hands.

It might just be his way of ensuring he has the strength to deny any attempts. Whatever the reason, he has been an elite rim deterrent.

Will Holmgren and Gilgeous-Alexander enter the hallowed halls reserved for the game’s greatest duos? Only time will tell.

What this half-season has told us is that it’s not inconceivable. It’s going to take some serious steps to get there. But when your start is this strong, it makes your potential feel limitless. 

Key Stat: There are three players currently averaging 35% or greater from distance while putting up 1.5+ blocks per game: Scottie Barnes, Joel Embiid, and Chet Holmgren. Raise those numbers up to 38% and 2 blocks and you’re left with just one player: yup, it’s Holmgren.

Who could he turn out to be? Kevin Garnett, but less strength and more finesse. Maybe a supercharged late-career Brook Lopez. What Brook Lopez would look like if he was born ten years later, shooting Curry 3s instead of practicing post footwork.