With the 2021 NBA Draft on the books, it’s already time to look ahead. It’s been rumored that the 2022 edition will be scheduled for next June, which means we only have a little over 10 months to start familiarizing ourselves with the next generation.
Chet Holmgren is the top-ranked prospect in the 2021 high school class  and is placed first on ESPN’s way-too-early 2022 mock draft.
The seven-foot-one stretch big is coming off a spectacular season in which he led Minnehaha Academy to its fourth straight state championship, winning 20 of its 21 games and counting with an 18-point, 13-rebound, seven-assist, two-block performance from Holmgren in the championship game against Alexandria Area High School.
He then went on to lead the United States junior squad to a title at the 2021 U19 World Cup in Riga earlier this month, averaging 22.3 points per 40 minutes on 62% shooting and earning MVP honors after going head-to-head with Victor Wembanyama, the projected top pick in the 2023 Draft, in the championship game.
That MVP award was a tad questionable, with others (Wembanyama, especially) exceling a bit more from statistical- and impact-driven standpoints, but the 19-year-old was extremely influential at his best and showed, against a high level of competition within his age group, why he is such a tantalizing prospect.
Holmgren is a perimeter-oriented big man who can nail three-pointers on spot-ups and as the trailer in transition. He is not really the level of ballhandler he seemed to be when he broke Stephen Curry’s ankles in that SC30 Select Camp a few of years ago but AAU squad Grassroots Sizzle even flirted with the idea of having him handle the ball on side pick-and-rolls.
It’s unlikely that he’ll develop into a shot creator against a set defense as he moves up through the levels, but other uses can be developed out of the nascent ballhandling he’s shown as a teenager. As we’ve seen from Brook Lopez since he’s joined Milwaukee, there’s a lot of value to be gained from a stretch big who can shot-fake into a drive and figure something out of it, even if he doesn’t have an advanced handle, any sort of side-to-side shake or all that much court vision on the move.
On the other end, the Minneapolis native is not yet as impactful away from the rim as you’d hope from someone with his mobility but truly excels as a rim protector within his age group. He is reasonably quick off the ground and has a superior standing reach but impresses the most with his timing making plays on the ball, as his performance against Sierra Canyon a couple of years ago highlighted.
The concerns surround his physical profile, and they are truly significant. Holmgren is listed at 190 pounds in our database and based on looks, even that estimation might seem more like wishful thinking. Besides, his frame is not just underdeveloped for someone his height, but someone his age as well. He’ll be 20 by the time the next draft rolls around.
As a consequence, Holmgren struggles some in the more physical parts of the game and was protected out of playing center for the entire U19 World Cup, consistently paired with Kenny Lofton, Jr. and Ryan Kalkbrenner in order for them to handle matching up against the opposing centers in the post and under the glass.
As most people do, he’s likely to grow stronger in his 20s, especially as his physical development starts to be more professionally guided, but another concern is that Holmgren doesn’t really have particularly broad shoulders for that to be expected rather than hoped, which raises questions over whether he’ll be viable enough to play the position where he can make the biggest impact.
Holmgren was mostly protected by a center at the U19 World Cup, but still played an active role in help defense, even when Lofton or Kalkbrenner were the ones responsible for defending against actions on the middle of the floor; helping from the side, rotating to pick up the roll man and coming off the weakside.
He is more of a two-foot leaper but does not need to load up to go up, able to get off the ground in a pinch and leverage his superior standing reach to alter shots or block them – averaging 5.1 blocks per 40 minutes at the U19 World Cup, the second-best mark in the tournament behind Wembanyama’s 10.2 (yes, 10.2) average.
The Minnehaha star also impressed with his awareness and commitment shadowing isolations and post-ups, hunting for opportunities to intervene at the last second.
Holmgren is not as effective challenging shots via verticality, unable to absorb contact and consistently getting knocked back out of being able to make plays on the ball.
But his agility on multiple-effort plays stood out, as he was sometimes seen stepping up to the front of the rim as the last line of defense to force a drop-off, turning around and contesting the dunker with a quick second jump.
More accustomed to playing center in high school and AAU, Holmgren at times seemed like a fish out of water as a weakside defender; misguidedly helping off the strongside and not very astute at stunting in to clog driving lanes or getting his length in the passing lanes – picking up just three steals in 149 minutes. But he still made an impact hustling around the perimeter to block midrange jumpers on breakdowns against people movement.
When brought to the ball against the pick-and-roll, the Minnesotan usually went up to the foul line and dropped back. He approached the ballhandler with a very soft stance but showed enough lateral mobility to stop the ball via position defense and plays with an arm up to discourage a midrange pull-up.
There were flashes of him extending coverage and contesting pull-ups at the three-point line here and there, but he didn’t make a push to try contesting jumpers at launch point of the release and was generally ineffective influencing ballhandlers out in space.
For the most part, Holmgren seemed at his most comfortable and at his most impactful defending foul line down. He again impressed with his quickness on multiple-effort plays, where he was able to stop the ball and then turn around to contest the roll man at the rim after the pocket pass. His nimbleness was also leveraged to keep pace with speedsters getting downhill and stay attached to act as a threat to block a shot defending on the ball.
The Gatorade National Player of the Year was asked to pick up smaller players on switches from time-to-time and didn’t stand out as particularly capable of holding his own one-on-one against small guards – playing with a more reactive approach and leaving a cushion to hedge against getting blown by, besides lacking the lateral quickness to stay in front of shiftier ballhandlers who look to operate out of side-to-side shake. As is, he’s not a threat to contest pull-ups within the shooter’s personal space.
Holmgren struggled with the more physical areas of the game.
He can’t push opponents out of deep seals in the post and cannot hold his ground. He defends with his arms up to try walling up the rim and can be somewhat effective against opponents who aren’t used to having opportunities to post up, but figures to be put in the basket repeatedly by opponents are naturally inclined to operate out of power moves.
More concerningly, perhaps, Holmgren doesn’t show much attention to his boxout responsibilities. He averaged 9.1 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes in Riga by relying on his ability to track the ball off the rim at a higher point and quicker than most of the competition he faced in the tournament but doesn’t look explosive enough off the ground to hold his own as a pogo-stick rebounder when he starts going up against more physically developed opponents.
Holmgren was seen getting down in a proper stance defending on the ball once or twice but usually stood flat-footed, generally not seeming very comfortable bending his knees.
He has enough lateral mobility to slide a few times one way to stay in front of face-up big men and even some stiffer wings on crossmatches but lacks the physicality to chest up and contain dribble penetration through contact, defending more with his legs and his arms than his chest and his hips.
Despite his agility and his nimbleness, Holmgren didn’t do well on closeouts. He does sprint to the three-point arc with urgency and can be effective against slower releases due to his massive standing reach but often seemed averse to try contesting the shooter within his personal space and needed to flyby to run the shooter off the line, often getting blown by off the shot-fake and exposing the defense behind him.
Holmgren mostly spaced out to the three-point line in the halfcourt and showed a little bit of versatility to his release by taking long-range attempts as the trailer in transition and drifting around the wing to offer a passing lane or sustain proper spacing.
He doesn’t have a pure shooting stroke but looks like a natural shooter for someone his height and tends to get a good arc on his best attempts; getting little elevation off the ground in what seems like almost a set shot and needing a dip for rhythm but fully extending himself for a high release.
Holmgren has a slow trigger, though, and was a bit hesitant of pulling the trigger against hard closeouts, at times looking more naturally inclined to operate off the bounce than letting it fly off the catch. He hit seven of his 13 three-point shots in the event, but at a pace of just 3.4 such attempts per 40 minutes.
Off Dribble Offense
That natural inclination to drive was also seen after setting ball-screens, as Holmgren more commonly looked to catch-and-go rather that pull the trigger out of the pick-and-pop, as well as operating out of triple threat position.
He doesn’t have a quick first step or much speed on a straight line to just get by his man and struggles to maintain his balance through contact but proved capable of getting all the way to the rim against a scrambling defense.
Holmgren can go up with power one foot if left unbothered off the bounce and, despite his weak frame, proved capable of finishing through contact within his age group.
He doesn’t have as much lift when opting to gallop into a two-foot leap to maneuver his way through the opposition crowding the area near the basket and struggles to complete some of the more acrobatic finishes on his way down but impressed with his touch around the rim and flashed some versatility to his finishing on unassisted non-dunk finishes, with a fair amount of comfort going to his left hand around the goal and the occasional right-handed finger-roll.
Holmgren can grab-and-go off a defensive rebound and take it end-to-end, high-stepping his way through traffic if no one picks him up but isn’t fast enough to just run past the opposition on his way to the goal on the regular. When picked up, he flashed some unconsciousness taking stop-and-pop pull-up three-pointers off stopping on a dime on rare occasions but usually slow transitions into an isolation.
Holmgren doesn’t a refined handle, a quick first step or much side-to-side shake out of a standstill. There were glimpses of low dribbling, but he is most often vulnerable of getting the ball stripped of him from the side against help defenders knifing in, having not yet developed much feel for opponents doubling him midway through his move in isolation.
That said, Holmgren has flashed a nascent bag of tricks to try getting by his man, if aided with proper spacing; a hesitation move, a reasonably well-coordinated spin and going behind the back with some suddenness.
He hasn’t yet developed particularly special court vision on the move but proved himself a willing passer off drawing two to the ball when he’s successful at getting past his man – averaging 6.2 assists per 40 minutes at the U19 World Cup.
Other than taking his man one-on-one, Holmgren doesn’t project as a shot creator against a set defense in the halfcourt but the more optimistic hold up hope of him being able to run some pick-and-roll, as he did with Grassroots Sizzle, with whom he took one dribble three-pointers against opponents going under on side actions and flashed an in-and-out dribble into getting downhill in a middle high set against Emoni Bates’ Ypsi Prep Academy.
Though he usually spaced out to the three-point line, Holmgren didn’t just park there and moved around quite a bit, flashing to the foul line for short drives and sneaking behind the defense to man the dunker spot.
He can play above the rim as a target for lobs, has shown good hands catching the ball on the move while attacking space on cuts and can bounce up without needing to load up but wasn’t often able to roll hard down the middle, so it’s unclear how explosive he can be going up for lobs in a crowd.
When unable to just go up off the catch, Holmgren impressed with his touch on extended left-handed finger-roll finishes but struggled to lower his shoulder and knock opponents back to create enough separation.
That struggle between skill and quickness versus physicality was also evident in the glass and the post. He is a legit putback dunk threat if no one boxes him out but is unable to set inside position in the offensive glass. He can spin around his defender with sleek footwork operating with his back to the basket but is unable to set a clean enough seal to get the ball in the post area.