• Sudeep Tumma

Scouting Report: Don't Be Fooled By Chet Holmgren's Slender Frame

He's been compared to Kristaps Porzingis, and for good measure.

I’ll be honest, my first instinct was the 7-foot, 190-pound Chet Holmgren would be “too skinny to succeed.”

That was before I turned on the tape.

Holmgren, the Gonzaga big man and No. 1 recruit in the 2021 class, truly is college basketball’s most unique player. His agility and short-area quickness really pop off the screen for his stature. He just seems to glide down the court.

Like Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero, Holmgren doesn’t have overpowering athleticism, but he’s still a fluid athlete who’s immensely skilled and has gaudy physical gifts — a 7-6 wingspan to start out.

Holmgren is a perimeter-orientated player who can attack downhill when you close out.

It starts with that jump shot. Holmgren has a sweet shooting stroke from range with a nice high-release point on his jumper. He’s shooting 39.6% from deep this season.

He predominantly works off spot-up opportunities as a floor spacer, and he possesses a little one-dribble side step off a pump fake. He doesn’t pull up off the dribble too often, but when he brings the ball down in transition, he’s always liable to put up a long-range bomb. But more than anything, with Holmgren’s height, length and release point, he can shoot over virtually anyone.

That’s where the Kristaps Porzingis comparisons emerge from.

Then off that jumper, if/when teams close out, he’s got a solid handle and the aforementioned quickness to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim.

From there, it’s two-fold. He will often lower his shoulder, be physical and finish through some contact. Or, if he doesn’t get to his spot, he’ll get within 5-7 feet of the basket, turn his back to the defender and hit gritty turnaround/fadeaway jumpers.

That’s the nature of his mid-range game. At this point in his development, he’s not going to size up defenders, stop on a dime while driving and/or utilize step-backs to get his mid-range off.

He’s a straight-line driver for the most part. When he doesn’t get to the basket, he counters that with his silky-smooth jumper, which is quite effective. You can’t argue with a 61.8% shooting mark.

That’s from the perimeter. Holmgren also thrives in the low post/face-up game.

As you can imagine, Holmgren isn’t backing anyone down in the post. Instead, he uses body leverage impeccably to open passing lanes for duck-ins. Or he’ll receive the ball, hit defenders with post spins, post hooks (if he’s deep enough) and rip moves to attack the basket.

Oh yeah, and he’s got phenomenal footwork.

With that athleticism, footwork and skill, Holmgren utilizes ball fakes along with incredible touch around the rim to put defenders in a mind-numbing bind.

His post moves aren’t overly refined at this point, there’s still room for improvement. Which is just a downright scary thought.

Then as a traditional big man, Holmgren works the pick-and-roll/pop games well. He’s especially dangerous when he fades and becomes a 3-point shooting threat as he can score from range or pump fake and attack downhill. Even as a roller, or any other scenario, Holmgren has great hands, which is a vital trait for a big man.

And if that wasn’t enough, his off-ball cutting adds to the quandary defenders already face with Holmgren.

He’s got such a high IQ. Holmgren understands when to space to the 3-point line. Then he feels when defenders fall asleep and times his cuts perfectly.

It’s already difficult enough to defend the guy straight up, now he’s getting the ball on the move, with a step on you.

One word: tough.

Holmgren’s profile as a scorer sets the table, but his playmaking is special. It starts with excellent passing vision coupled with great court awareness and instincts.

He’s adept at finding cutters from the perimeter, on the move and/or on the low block. What I love is his ability to create new passing angles with his height.

Even when Holmgren is double-teamed, he’s able to find open guys. His skip passes are a thing of beauty. Most people’s cross-court passes are a foot or two too high or low or it’s a slow pass, which provides time for the defense to rotate back. But because of Holmgren’s height, he’s precise with those passes. Right in the shooting pocket.

We talked about his post-game, but he’s equally deft with his entry passes. He works the Hi-Lo game immaculately with All-American big man Drew Timmie.

That’s another reason to love Holmgren. He co-existed with Timmie flawlessly. With Holmgren’s unique skill set and playmaking prowess, he’s a versatile weapon who can play the 4 or 5. Holmgren plays so well within the confines of the offense, and he never seems to be in a rush. And he’s always hunting high-quality shots.

That being said, Holmgren’s frame does raise some concerns.

As I said, despite the slight frame, he’s physical as a driver. But he sometimes gets pushed off his spot as a driver or in the low post, which has led to some turnovers this season. And that could be magnified in the NBA when guys are bigger, faster, stronger.

I’ll say this: you love the mentality. At 190 pounds, Holmgren is willing to ram his body and grab baskets. You can only imagine how effective he’ll be once he packs on the muscle.

But that’s part of the problem.

It’s fair to question how many pounds he can add to his frame. Unlike someone such as Smith, who’s got a wider frame and will likely put on those pounds, it’s more of a wait-and-see approach with Holmgren

But that’s one worry for a player with such a mesmerizing skill set.

We’ve been talking offense this whole time. On defense, he’s an imposing force.

Holmgren is a bonafide rim protector. As a weakside help defender, he’s got enough foot speed to slide over and swat shots away at will. If he can’t block an attempt, you best be sure he’s going to alter it.

He’s disciplined as a shot-blocker too. You see so many big men “jumping for joy” and elevating for every little pump fake, but Holmgren has really good instincts and times those jumps perfectly. He’s tallied 3.4 blocks per game in 25.3 minutes per game.

Then in the post, Holmgren can get pushed around a bit with his lack of strength, but with his length, vertical and timing, he often swats post hooks/layups.

I guess it’s a different way to play post defense.

Again, in the NBA with bigger/faster/stronger, it remains to be seen how fruitful that approach can be, but the physical tools can’t be ignored.

Tools that also aid him as a perimeter defender. Holmgren is a versatile defender who’s got good, not great lateral quickness. But with a 7-6 wingspan, he keeps guards/wings in front of him and will contest/block field goal attempts.

To cap off his all-around game, Holmgren is a stellar rebounder.

It’s not just the physical tools, Holmgren always makes a concerted effort to box out his man, then uses his height/length/vertical to pluck the ball out of the air. From there, he’ll often lead the break and take the ball coast-to-coast for a basket or find an open man in transition.

And he’ll crash the offensive glass too. Of an 8.7-rebound average, 1.8 is offensive. Again, it comes down to effort. He’ll run in from the perimeter to try to rip down second-chance opportunities. Or he’ll just keep fighting down low, even if he’s boxed out.

That’s how you rebound.

When you look at Holmgren, you almost need to ignore the size for a second. His entire package — the skill, the physical traits, the IQ — make him an exhilarating player.

He’s a perfect fit for the modern-day NBA and a perfect fit for the end of this article.

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