Chet Holmgren

Warriors awestruck by ‘problem' Holmgren, confident Thunder coming

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One night after Victor Wembanyama dropped 38 points on the Phoenix Suns, the opening minute of the Warriors’ 141-139 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center was a glimpse into what the future holds from another basketball alien who was the unicorn of the previous year’s draft. The Chet Holmgren experience was on full display.

The 7-footer won the opening tip and put the Thunder on the scoreboard 12 seconds later from a jump shot over Warriors center Kevon Looney. Holmgren on the Thunder’s second offensive possession brought the ball up the floor, drove baseline and hit a cutting Cason Wallace for two points. What about the Thunder’s third offensive possession?

Holmgren jogged from defense, caught a pass behind the 3-point line in stride and watched his shot swish through the nets from the left wing for three more points. All that was missing was Holmgren swatting a shot away. That didn’t come until the final minute-plus of the fourth quarter.

While the Warriors beat the Thunder on a controversial Steph Curry underhand scoop with 0.2 seconds remaining, Holmgren earned Golden State’s respect in his first game against the Dubs.

“Chet’s a problem,” Draymond Green said after the Warriors’ fourth straight road win and fifth overall. “He can play. He can dribble the ball, he can shoot the ball, has great length, is a great shot blocker. He’s only going to get better. For a young guy like that to have the feel that he has, you don’t see many mistakes out of him. And I thought that was big.”

Holmgren was supposed to be Wembanyama one season before the Frenchman came to the NBA. In his one year at Gonzaga, Holmgren was a consensus All-American who averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. But a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in a summer exhibition game kept him out all last season.

“Him having last year being out, yet being able to be around – it just shows,” Green said. “He’s not making the typical mistakes that a rookie would make. Sky’s the limit for Chet. We’ve watched him for years leading up to him coming to the NBA and were always like, ‘Yo, this kid has a chance.’ Now we saw it tonight. He’s going to be a problem for a long time in this league.”

Looking like Mr. Tumnus and playing like pre-injury peak Kristaps Porzingis, Holmgren displayed advanced ball handling for someone his size. The way he’s able to use his length in different ways is a video game cheat code that players of all heights and stature are sure to deal with at some point.

These are just two examples, one against a 6-foot-7 Andrew Wiggins and another when being guarded by Curry, who is listed at 6-foot-3.

Holmgren scored a career-high 24 points on only nine shot attempts. His efficiency stood out, finishing 7-of-9 shooting, while converting around the rim, hitting his two 3-point attempts and making all eight of his free throws.

After shooting 71.7 percent at the free throw line as a freshman at Gonzaga, Holmgren now has made 87 percent of his free throws through his first six games as a pro. Dirk Nowitzki has the best free throw percentage ever by a player listed 7-foot or taller, and he finished his Hall of Fame career at 87.9 percent.

Curry and Holmgren formed a relationship at the Warriors star’s camp before Holmgren even played a college game, and the two swapped jerseys following Golden State’s second straight last-second win.

“You have to respect him at all three levels, and he’s just getting started. The jersey swap and the history we have, he crossed me up at my own camp,” Curry remembered. “To see him now … I know he had a rough injury to start his career, but to be back and playing and healthy and playing well, it’s fun to see.”

The Warriors 12 days after first facing Holmgren will get to see Wembanyama in a regular-season game for the first time. These two are the evolution of players nobody could have imagined when fans frothed at a Bob Cousy bounce pass. And the Warriors’ win against a Thunder team that didn’t have its best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, was another stern reminder: OKC is here, and they’re only going to get better.

“These guys are coming,” Steve Kerr said. “Everyone can feel it. You could feel it last year, and now they have Chet back healthy, obviously playing at a high level. He’s really added a different dimension to their team. OKC’s coming.

“They’re loaded with talent and extremely well coached. We know that they’re going to be a factor all year.”

Even though the Thunder still own a bajillion future NBA draft picks, give or take, the tanking days are over. The Warriors are all-in on a team whose biggest contributors are well into their thirties, and the future is now for a former rival.

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