Chet Holmgren is Out for the Season, and What it Means for the Thunder

August 25th, 2022

By Alan Lu

More and more rookies have been getting hurt in the summer leagues and in pro-ams, especially this year.  Jaden Ivey, Dyson Daniels, and Shaedon Sharpe all have gotten hurt in the Las Vegas Summer League, and E.J. Liddell suffered a knee injury that ended his season. Amongst Ivey, Daniels, and Sharpe, Shaedon Sharpe could’ve used the playing time at the Las Vegas Summer League the most, because Sharpe is the most untested rookie of the 2022 draft class due to not having played in any college basketball games last year.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s prized rookie big man, Chet Holmgren injured his foot at the CrawsOver after defending LeBron James on the break, and Holmgren will miss the entire 2022-23 NBA season.
(Photo:
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today Sports, via SB Nation’s Blazer’s Edge)

The news gets even worse.  Oklahoma City Thunder’s prized rookie big man Chet Holmgren had played very well in the Las Vegas Summer League, so he appeared poised for a great rookie season this year, but he injured his foot after successfully defending LeBron James on a break early in a game at the CrawsOver pro-am.  Because Holmgren suffered a Lisfranc injury, he will now be out for the season, which will effectively put his Rookie of the Year hopes on hold until next season.

Much has been made about Chet Holmgren’s skinny frame, and he’s been on the receiving end of his fair share of criticism.  More could be made about the way LeBron James drove to the hoop, as he spun around and backed into Holmgren, which made it more difficult for Holmgren to land his foot properly.  Also to blame would be the wet and slippery floor, because there didn’t seem to be any air conditioning in the building, and plenty of fans had to fan themselves off to keep cool. 

Seattle sports’ legend and former star basketball player Jamal Crawford did a very good thing to make the CrawsOver free once again, and it was a valiant move to have megastars such as LeBron James and Jayson Tatum play at the pro-am.  Crawford deserves a lot of credit for putting the event on to help the community. It was a well-intentioned move to keep the event free while also letting Seattle fans see NBA superstars play at this event.   In the star-studded game itself, Jayson Tatum was dominant, as he was making deep threes effortlessly, and he was scoring at will. Houston Rockets’ rookie forward, Tari Eason excelled as a scorer and defender, and he was showing the willingness to defend LeBron and Dejounte Murray, and he put the clamps down on both of them in the first half.

That said, the event could have been planned better. It was clear that the CrawsOver wasn’t prepared or equipped to handle the large amount of traffic, or the attention NBA superstars would draw to them on a hot and humid, summer day.  There was limited spaces available, and not enough ventilation to keep the building cool, and so they had to call the game off before the end of the first half, but the Holmgren injury has managed to make this chaotic day seem even worse in retrospect.

In the short term, the Oklahoma City Thunder were not likely to compete for a playoff spot, as they have been one of the worst teams in the NBA for two years in a row now, and they still have a very young team that is still trying to find its identity.  They return several very talented young players, as they have a solid group of guards in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, whose versatility and offensive skills should make their team entertaining to watch, and Lu Dort is one of the best defensive players in the game right now.  But aside from that, they have a lot of young, unpolished players who will be still learning on the fly this year, which will most likely mean that the Thunder will lose a lot of games during the upcoming NBA season. While the Thunder defended better than anticipated last year, they were one of the worst offensive teams in the league last season, and with much of their team intact and returning, it’s probably likely that the Thunder won’t win many games during the 2022-23 season.

This most likely puts the Oklahoma City Thunder in the running for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes for the 2023 draft, if they weren’t already in the running.  For the Thunder, they will most likely get another high draft pick in 2023, plan for the future, and over time, their young players will develop and help make the Thunder into a playoff team years from now.  In the meantime in the here and now, Chet Holmgren will have to rehabilitate and strengthen his foot to get it to heal, so that he can return to health and make a full recovery.

Thunder fans will have to wait for Holmgren to make his impact felt in the NBA, but if the Las Vegas Summer League was any indication, they should still be excited for the future, as long as he fully recovers.  Holmgren is a super talented, versatile big man that can shoot, has point forward skills, and he is a terrific defender that can cover plenty of ground and block shots.  Much has been made about his very skinny frame and perhaps too much so, but the utmost priority for Holmgren is to recover from his foot injury. 

Before the injury, Holmgren was looking to be one of the three best players of the 2022 draft class along with Paolo Banchero and Keegan Murray, as he had dominated all summer.  Chet Holmgren could still be poised to have a very good NBA career, as other top 3 picks before him have missed NBA seasons early in their careers and still have went on to make All-Star teams, such as Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin, and Ben Simmons

It’s hard to give out a finite comparison for Chet Holmgren, as he has a unique body type and game that makes him truly stand out from the pack.  That said, I’d say Holmgren’s game would be similar to Kristaps Porzingis, but with more playmaking skills.  It remains to be seen as to how well Holmgren will play in the NBA, but once he returns to full health, I would expect Holmgren to play well in the 2023-24 NBA season, and to have a very good NBA career in the future.

It’s also a shame that E.J. Liddell is also out for the season, and he’s in a worse spot, especially since he isn’t currently under contract from the team that drafted him, the New Orleans Pelicans.  Liddell is an athletic, strong combo forward that can shoot, score, and defend, and he plays the game with great energy and toughness.  He certainly had a terrific junior season at Ohio State last year.  Despite that, it may be tougher for him to make an impact in the NBA, especially since he’s a second round pick and currently doesn’t have a guaranteed contract, so he may have to prove to the Pelicans that he has what it takes to make their roster.  Over time, I feel like once Liddell gets healthy, he will probably make it to the NBA, and he could develop into a solid role player in the mold of a Matt Barnes type in the league.

As for the future state of the Summer Leagues and the Pro-Ams, they will need to put much more emphasis on the safety and well-being of the players, coaches, fans, and anyone else that enters and leaves their building. The Summer Leagues and Pro-Ams will have to place a much greater emphasis on security, ventilation, and making sure that the court is in clean and in good shape, and they would absolutely have to regulations in place to ensure that the floors are never wet or slippery when used by people or players.  Climate change is real, and temperatures keep rising over the summer, so it will be very important that both players and fans keep cool, and that the building can ensure the safety of everyone involved.

In the future, Chet Holmgren’s foot injury could potentially negatively impact Summer Leagues and Pro-Ams, because NBA teams will likely want greater control of their players’ practice and playing habits over the summer, and they would probably want to take greater precautions to ensure that their players don’t get seriously injured in a pick-up basketball game. 

On the other hand, players will want to stay in shape, and to improve they will want to compete against the best.  And in doing so, they may run the risk of colliding into other players or slipping on a wet floor spot that could accidentally injure them.  There are always risks to everything.  Unfortunately, Chet Holmgren’s injury just so happened to be one of the unlucky results to the risks players may take in competing in games or at summer events.

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