Thunder No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren silences critics in NBA debut with 23 points and 6 blocks

SALT LAKE CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have been in rebuild mode for a number of years, adding another slice to the 2022 NBA draft with Chet Holmgren, the second-biggest pick, 7-foot, 195-pound center. Many have criticized his slight physique and question his ability to hold his own at the NBA level.

His first Test and Summer League debut came Tuesday night in the Salt Lake City Summer League, and on paper it would be a big Test. Literally. The Utah Jazz entered the court with one of the biggest frontcourts at 6ft 11, 293lb Kofi Cockburn and 7ft 6 Tacko Fall.

Holmgren faced Cockburn early and didn’t let him push him back on the lane. He continually used his footwork and length to block shots and avoided getting buried on the block. When Fall checked into play midway through the first quarter, Holmgren kept him off the block and did everything he could to hold his position. The Thunder’s length and speed, plus Holmgren’s all-around power, were too much for the Jazz as the Thunder effortlessly took the win, 98-77.

“I just wanted to fight with them [Cockburn and Fall]’ said Holmgren after the game. “It was going to be nothing easy and everything hard and trying to win the basketball game. At the end of the day, I wasn’t trying to get into personal feuds or matchups or prove anything personally.”

Oklahoma City Thunder players Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey during a Salt Lake City Summer League game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on July 5, 2022. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Oklahoma City Thunder players Chet Holmgren and Josh Giddey during a Salt Lake City Summer League game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on July 5, 2022. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

“The game plan was aggressive towards these guys on the post,” added Summer League head coach Kameron Woods. “Our team wanted support behind him so he could be aggressive just because defensively he was who he is and I thought he did a great job just fighting. He talked about wanting to be physical and to come out here and play a certain style on both ends of the floor and I thought he did that tonight.”

Holmgren made it clear that he was here to make a mark and would not shy away from any competition. In recent years, high profile players have sat out games in Utah waiting to make their NBA debuts in the bright lights of Las Vegas.

“I’m a professional basketball player who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and I will lace them up whenever and wherever,” Holmgren said. “I was lucky enough to play tonight and I never take that for granted. If I can play, I will play.”

Fans at Vivint Arena were mesmerized by the way Holmgren moved with the ball. Weaves in and out between defenders and pulls up for 3-pointers in transition with fall in his face. There were numerous ohhs and ahhs for Holmgren, who was dubbed a unicorn prospect due to his size, shot blocking skills and the way he moves with the ball.

At halftime, the Thunder had a comfortable 20-point lead and Holmgren had 18 points (4 of 5 of three), three assists and two blocks in just 14 minutes.

Holmgren led all players with 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists. The six blocks was an SLC Summer League record. This was the first time Josh Giddey had returned to the pitch after sustaining a hip injury in February; He hit a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.

The Thunder take on the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. ET Wednesday before heading to Las Vegas for the 10-day Summer League tournament.