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SALT LAKE CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have been in rebuild mode for a few years and added another piece in the 2022 NBA draft with the No. 2 pick, 7-foot, 195-pound center Chet Holmgren. Many criticize his slight frame and have doubts he can hold his own in the post at the NBA level.
His first test, and Summer League debut, came at the Salt Lake City Summer League on Tuesday night and on paper, it was going to be a big test. Literally. The Utah Jazz walked out on the court with one of the biggest frontcourts with 6-foot-11, 293-pound Kofi Cockburn and 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall.
Holmgren went head-to-head with Cockburn early, not letting him back him down in the lane. He continuously used his footwork and length to block shots and avoided getting buried on the block. When Fall checked into the game halfway 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, as well as Holmgren's do-it-all performance, was too much for the Jazz as the Thunder comfortably took the win, 98-77.
"I just wanted to battle with them [Cockburn and Fall]," Holmgren said after the game. "It was going to be nothing easy and everything hard and try to win the basketball game. At the end of the day, I wasn't trying to get into any personal feuds or matchups or trying to prove anything personally."
"The game plan was be aggressive with those guys in the post," Summer League head coach Kameron Woods added. "Our team was going to have support behind him so he could be aggressive just being who he is defensively, and I thought he did a great job just battling. He talked about wanting to be physical and coming out here and playing a certain style on both ends of the floor, and I thought he did that tonight."
Holmgren made it clear he was here to make a statement and wasn't going to shy away from any competition. In years past, high-profile players sat out games in Utah and waited to make their NBA debut under the bright lights in Las Vegas.
"I'm a professional basketball player playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder and I'm going to lace them up whenever or wherever," Holmgren said. "I was fortunate enough to play tonight, and I never take that for granted. If I can play, I'm going to play."
Fans inside Vivint Arena were transfixed by how Holmgren moved with the ball. Weaving in and out of defenders and pulling up for 3-pointers in transition with Fall in his face. There were numerous ohhs and ahhs for Holmgren, who has been called a unicorn-type prospect coming up with his size, shot-blocking skills and the way he moves with the ball.
By halftime, the Thunder had a comfortable 20-point lead and Holmgren had 18 points (4-for-5 from three), three assists and two blocks in only 14 minutes.
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Holmgren led all players with 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists. The six blocks were a SLC Summer League record. This was Josh Giddey's first time back on the court after suffering a hip injury in February; he posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
The Thunder will face the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday before they head to Las Vegas for the 10-day Summer League tournament.