After the Oklahoma City Thunder swept their first round matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, it is easy to look back on their season as full of sure things. The Thunder finished the regular season with the best record in the West, led by a finalist for the MVP award. 

There was not always a belief that the Thunder would achieve to this extent though. The Thunder surpassed their pre-season over/under win total more than any team in the league. No player better embodies this surpassing of expectations more than Chet Holmgren.

Standing in the middle as a skinny, sound foundation of the Thunder’s identity, Holmgren is having a tremendous rookie year. In a normal season, without the infusion of Victor Wembanyama, Holmgren would be the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year. As alluded to before, this was far from a sure thing.

Seeing the success Holmgren has had this year, it is easy to forget the trials and tribulations he faced before ever setting foot on an NBA court. The summer he was drafted by the Thunder he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot, leaving him sidelined for the entire season. Unfortunately the injury also amplified some existing questions about his durability and ability to thrive in the physical environment of the NBA.

After playing in all 82 games this past season, Holmgren has effectively put those doubts – fair or not – to rest. Holmgren has blossomed into a two-way stud, impacting both ends of the floor at a high level. With the ability to shoot efficiently from three and put the ball on the floor, Holmgren is able to keep the core beliefs of the Thunder’s offensive philosophy alive as a center. Paired with his elite rim protection, Holmgren has proven to be a rare commodity colloquially referred to as a “unicorn,” a term Kevin Durant once used to describe 7-footers proficient at shooting, protecting the rim, and making connective plays.

Shooting and Playmaking

Capable of spacing the floor, Holmgren finished the season shooting a respectable 37% on over 4 3-point attempts per game. He was heavily called upon as a spacer too, ranking in the 90th percentile for centers in a stat we track, on-ball closeout opportunity frequency. With these ample opportunities he has produced:

Closeouts Average (per 100 possessions) Percentile (regular season among Centers)
Advantages Created* 2 90
Advantages Inherited** 9.2 82
Advantages Maintained*** 3.9 84

*Advantage Created: Player creates an advantage for their team; an advantage is deemed to be created if the team can generate a high-value shot off of the player’s action.

**Advantage Inherited: Player inherits at least a semi-advantageous situation in their on-ball chance.

***Advantage Maintained: Player inherits at least a semi-advantage and at minimum maintains their team’s advantage on their on-ball chance.

Simply spacing the floor is not Holmgren’s only offensive responsibility. After catching the ball behind the arc, he is able to put the ball on the floor and make sound decisions. Sometimes these drives end emphatically, like this highlight dunk after his patented spin-move.


Passing has been a budding skill for the young center as well, fitting in well with OKC’s drive-and-kick style of offense. 


(per 100 possessions)


(regular season among Centers)

Assists 3 68
Potential Assists* 5.8 71
Hockey Assists** 1.3 80

*Potential Assists: Number of shots or shooting fouls directly created for teammates.

**Hockey Assists: Number of shots or shooting fouls directly created for teammates one pass prior to the result.

When called upon, Holmgren can potentially be a straw that stirs the drink by creating an advantage for his teammates resulting in a high-value shot. Among centers, Holmgren is in the 69th percentile, averaging 9.3 advantages created per 100 possessions. 

Defense and Rim Protection

Holmgren has been able to utilize his elite length and sound mobility to make defense his calling card. A large part of this is his ability to contest shots as a primary on-ball defender and as a help defender off-ball. 

Holmgren had a block/alter rate that is in the 97th percentile among centers with a contest frequency in 86th percentile and has kept those numbers steady in the playoffs, making him an active and effective defender. Helping this is a utilization of Holmgren’s unique length: the use of two hands when contesting a shot. 

In February we used pose data to look at Holmgren’s two-handed contest rate. At the time, he had the most two-handed blocks in the league while ranking in the 98th percentile for all players in two-handed contests. 

Although he is known for his shot blocking, Holmgren provides winning defensive plays in additional areas:


(per 100 possessions)


(regular season among Centers)

Advantages Allowed* 10.9 90
Advantages Prevented** 12.9 93

*Advantage Allowed: Opponent creates an advantage on an on-ball opportunity.

**Advantage Prevented: Player significantly decreases the opposing team’s chances of scoring.

Defensive numbers like these are impressive enough without factoring in Holmgren’s status as a rookie. We track defensive breakdowns, when a player makes a defensive miscue that leads to a significant advantage for their opponent, and Holmgren performs far beyond his years of experience, ranking in the 97th percentile among centers in breakdown frequency. 

Holmgren’s multi-faceted excellency as a center has given the Thunder a huge boost in their regular season and early playoff success. 

Playoffs and Beyond

As the Thunder get deeper into the playoffs, the tests will become more strenuous. Their 2nd round opponent, either the Clippers or the Mavericks, will be a greater challenge than the Pelicans, who were missing their best player. 

Amid the team’s recent success, it is important to look back and not take this for granted. Holmgren surpassed even the greatest expectations placed on him, delivering quality play on both ends that goes far beyond what is expected of a rookie. 

In large part, this Thunder team will go as far as their rookie center will take them. Even if it ends in Round 2, this should just be the start of an extended Oklahoma City run and a promising young career for Holmgren.