How Shai Gilgeous-Alexander knew Chet Holmgren was NBA ready

It didn’t take long for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to see that Chet Holmgren was NBA-ready.

Thunder's Chet Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The Oklahoma City Thunder are out to prove that they can contend for an NBA championship. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams and company are two games up on the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs, giving them a solid edge as they look to go dancing in the playoffs for a while.

After a narrow win in Game 1, the Thunder obliterated the Pelicans in Game 2 by a final score of 124-92. Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points and five assists on 13-19 shooting while Holmgren tallied 26 points and seven rebounds on 9-13 shooting.  The young center gave New Orleans fits with his ability to space the floor, hitting three threes and scoring 15 points in the first quarter.

Coming into the NBA, there were a lot of concerns about the skinny Holmgren’s ability to compete with NBA-sized players. The fact that he suffered a season-ending foot injury that derailed what would have been his first NBA season added to the concern. Since then, he has made a full recovery and played all 82 games in the 2023-24 campaign. The size of the fight in the dog is monumentally greater than the size of the dog in the fight when it comes to OKC’s young center.

Gilgeous-Alexander remembers a time in 2022 when he and Holmgren played together against competition from the Canadian Elite Basketball League, the premier basketball league in Canada. The big man showed a lot of tenacity that impressed the star guard.

“The year Chet got drafted, he came to Toronto, I think, that summer. We played pick-up…[His matchup] was a bigger guy and he was battling physically — even though, obviously, he was giving up a lot of pounds — and talking smack and all that stuff. So I knew Chet had that fire in him from that day a couple of summers ago.”

Chet Holmgren shines in Thunder’s Game 2 win vs. Pelicans

SGA said he “absolutely” still sees that fire in Holmgren. Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas is a big, physical center who bulldozed his way into the post for hook shots and rebounds. Holmgren has taken the challenge head-on as OKC looks to advance.

The Thunder are setting records for being as good as they are as young as they are. Holmgren giving them star-level production from the get-go is perhaps one of the most impressive parts of their success story. This is no slight towards the 25-year-old SGA but there are several guards his age or younger who serve as offensive engines for their team (even though he’s one of the very best). It’s rarer for someone as young as the 21-year-old Holmgren to be the type of interior defender and complementary scorer who can serve a big role on a great team.

Holmgren may lose out on the Rookie of the Year award to Victor Wembanyama but he’s still a star big man in the making and one of the best players on a top-notch team. The future is bright for Holmgren and the Thunder, who know they have to really lock in for Game 3 as the series heads to New Orleans.

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