Renowned Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote that “the two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Loyal fans of the Orlando Magic are no strangers to patience and time. Having patience with the Magic has been something of a requirement since the team moved on from perennial All-Star center Dwight Howard back in the summer of 2012.
Yes, that’s right - I took it back that far. Orlando has missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference eight times over the last decade since Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Hence, patience and time. Time and time again over the last ten years, the Magic have found themselves in the middle of the NBA Draft lottery. But this time, the patience fans have shown - and the time they’ve been waiting for the team to return to relevancy in the East - has finally paid off.
For the fourth time in franchise history, and the first time since 2004, the Orlando Magic will be selecting first overall in the draft. The Magic, who have already assembled a roster with six former top-ten NBA Draft picks (along with a collection of additional young players), will now be adding the top player from the 2022 class to their core group in Orlando.
“More than anything, (I’m) excited for the fanbase,” Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman told reporters in May, following the announcement that his team had won the lottery. “When we went through the rebuild last year (dating back to the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline), we took on all that comes with that. All the youth, all the mistakes, all the excitement, all the enthusiasm. Part of that process is going into the lottery and hoping that you come out in a good place. So we’re excited about tonight, and I’m really excited that the fans have something to fire (them) up.”
Weltman acknowledged to reporters after the lottery that controlling the top of the draft will come with sets of circumstances his group has not been accustomed to in previous draft processes, such as more access to players’ medical information, more prospects willing to visit/workout with the team, and potentially even more phone calls from other organizations.
Orlando’s top executives, including veteran general manager John Hammond, have quite the predicament on their hands. Three big men have presumably separated themselves in a tier of their own at this point of the pre-draft process. And while things can certainly change over the next month, it has long been assumed that the top three selections in this year’s NBA Draft will result in some combination of (alphabetically listed) Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith Jr.
Here at Orlando Pinstriped Post, we will be putting together detailed scouting reports of all three prospects over the next month which will include measurements, film observations, resumes, ‘talking points’, and potential fit(s) with the Magic. Second in this series is a long and rather lanky forward from Gonzaga (via Minneapolis, MN), big man Chet Holmgren.
If you missed it, we began the scouting report series profiling Paolo Banchero.
|14.2 PTS, 9.6 REB, 3.6 BLK, 41.2% 3PT% (97 3PTA's)|
Eye in the sky
-Likes the trail three from the top of the key when his team is playing in transition
-Is a pick-and-pop threat in P-N-R situations; solid balance, clean release, holds follow through on jumper. A little slow getting his jumper off from catch to release
-Really thrives initiating fast-break opportunities off his own boards. You can see on film his ability to survey and see the floor, knows when to push the pace/when to pull-up for three
-Soft hands, solid catching the ball in traffic for a prospect his size. Presents a massive target for rolling and/or lob opportunities in the painted area
-Solid offensive instincts, knowledge of floor-balance, very good cutting to the basket for easy opportunities
-Seems comfortable playing on the perimeter, utilizes an array of moves off the dribble to get open looks in the paint (crossover, spin over left shoulder, floater), clean handle for a player his size
-Plays much stronger at the rim than he really is, was an elite finisher this past season
-Elite ability to alter/change shot attempts in one-on-one defensive situations due to his incredible length
-Has trouble holding ground due to his ultra-thin lower half, but length (and technique) helps him recover and compete defensively. Needs to be careful not to get pinned under the basket
-Incredible technique keeping his arms/hands up on defense without fouling
Reminds me of...
Jonathan Isaac - Obviously, I see some of Isaac in Holmgren because of their respective frames, but that’s not all. Both Isaac and Holmgren possess incredible defensive instincts and awareness on the floor, and excel creating havoc (blocking shots, altering shots, deflecting passes). Holmgren has considerably more offensive upside entering the league than Isaac came in with - because of his outside shooting prowess. But both players are also capable off-ball cutters, and both are comfortable handling the ball (in limited capacities) on the perimeter.
Evan Mobley - Again, frame/physical profile is part of the comparison here. I think both Mobley and Holmgren have the ability to become elite NBA defenders in their careers. Again, Holmgren’s perimeter shooting is already ahead of where Mobley’s was entering the NBA last season.
Kristaps Porzingis - Not a perfect comparison, but shades of Porzingis in Holmgren. Forget the physical profile, but the combination of floor-spacing and shot-blocking is where a see some similarities (not necessarily in playing style, but potential early production). Porzingis is more of a volume offensive player; Holmgren has the potential to be a more efficient player on that end. I like Holmgren as a defender that can provide more value as well (away from the basket, switching, more versatile, better instincts).
Best films of 2021-22
February 5th vs. BYU - 20 points (9-14 FGA’s), 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks
February 24th vs. San Francisco - 21 points (8-12 FGA’s), 15 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 steals
March 17th vs Georgia St. - 19 points (8-13 FGA’s), 17 rebounds, 7 blocks, 5 steals
Video Credit: Scouting Rapport
Resume and ‘By the numbers’
- Gatorade National High School Player of the Year (‘21), Minnesota Mr. Basketball (‘21), high school teammate of Magic guard Jalen Suggs (2017-20)
- McDonald’s All-American (‘21), Nike Hoops Summit (‘21), and Jordan Brand Classic participant (‘21)
- Named Tournament MVP at 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup in Latvia (gold medal winner)
- WCC Newcomer of the Year (‘22), WCC Defensive Player of the Year (‘22)
- All-WCC - 1st Team, Consensus All-American - 2nd Team
- Led the nation in defensive rating, 2PT%, and eFG%; led the WCC in rebounds per game, blocks per game, FG%, true shooting percentage, PER, box plus/minus, offensive rating, block percentage, and defensive rebounding percentage
- Recorded 4 or more blocks in a single contest on 18 separate occasions in 2021-22; recorded a double-double on 13 separate occasions
1) Defensive aptitude
Simply put, Holmgren is the best all-around defender in this draft class. Buoyed by his massive wingspan and 9-6 reach, the Minneahaha Academy prep-product is a problem for opponents. The West Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year averaged 4.5 stocks (steals plus blocks) per game, despite averaging just under 27 minutes per contest. Holmgren blocked five or more shot attempts seven times in 2021-22 en route to leading his conference in blocks, blocks per game, and block percentage. As the anchor of Gonzaga defensive attack, Holmgren led the Bulldogs to a top-five defensive rating in the country (89.6).
His individual defensive rating while on the floor (78.7) led the country this past season. According to J. Kyle Mann of The Ringer, Holmgren is more than just a prospect with long arms. “Aside from just being preposterously long, his combination of mobility, awareness, and opportunistic action is a big reason why he was able to rack up 117 blocks (this past season),” Mann wrote in a piece he published on May 17th. “He’s a calculating player with schematic versatility and the ability to switch, hedge hard, and quickly recover; as a result he has an opportunity to be a floor-raising defensive player who can affect the offense.”
Holmgren doesn’t appear to profile as the elite shot-blocker who is constantly looking to intimidate opponents by swatting their shot into the third row. He’s an aware defender that sees the floor, understands balance, and is quicker to recover than one would assume when simply looking at his body/frame. If he’s blocking a shot, he’s looking to keep the ball in-bounds. If he’s altering an attempt at the rim, he’s looking to rebound the basketball and quickly initiate his own fast break going the other way. And if he finds himself defending on the perimeter, Holmgren is comfortable enough to not be overly exposed or taken advantage of like other seven-footers likely would be.
For a player of his size and stature, Holmgren is not challenged shuffling his feet laterally. His feet and overall balance really helps him in situations where he has to switch, hedge, stay down in his stance, and/or recover defensively. If a team tries to take advantage of him on the perimeter in roll situations, he has the ability to not only switch, but momentarily slow-down the role man (due to his massive length, combined with his defensive understanding of floor balance). As mentioned in Mann’s piece, Holmgren allowed a meager .304 points per possession when defending pick-and-rolls last season at Gonzaga (96th percentile nationally, according to Synergy Sports).
2) Offensive upside
Holmgren may not be the prolific offensive weapon that a Paolo Banchero or Jabari Smith Jr. already is. But what he lacked in offensive volume in ‘21, Holmgren more than made up for in efficiency. The West Coast Conference Rookie of The Year led the nation in effective field goal percentage (68.0 percent) and two-point field goal percentage (73.7 percent), while finishing second in the nation (led the WCC) in true shooting percentage. The five-star talent was exceptional finishing at the rim with either hand at Gonzaga (incredible 88.0 percent FG% at the rim), and he regularly showed his range shooting the basketball - especially at the top of the key, where 22 percent of his overall field goal attempts on the season came from (and 61 of his 104 three-point attempts, 23/61 3PTA’s = 37.7%). Holmgren let as many three-point attempts fly from the top of the arc as any big man in the country in 2021-22.
Being paired with All-American big man Drew Timme at Gonzaga often placed Holmgren on the perimeter in the half-court, forcing defenders to respect his outside shot. This created room for Timme, one of the better collegiate post players in the nation, to go to work on the offensive block. Holmgren was still a threat in the painted area, operating as both a lob/roll threat, as well as an off-ball cutter. The Minneapolis native’s shot profile exemplifies that of a modern NBA player’s profile: 56% of his attempts came in the painted area last season, while 37.5% of his attempts came from beyond the arc.
In his his piece entitled “Top 10 signature moves from the 2022 NBA draft class”, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz profiled Holmgren’s “grab and go” move as an area of his game where he’s found measurable success. According to Schmitz, Holmgren scored 1.36 points per possession (39 total possessions) as the lead ball-handler in transition. A significant portion of those points came as Holmgren pulled-up for three-point attempts off the dribble.
I still have my concerns (honestly, more questions than concerns) about Holmgren’s shot-creation ability, his passing/vision, and his overall range-shooting acumen at the next-level (is he streaky shooter, or a knockdown shooter?). But there is no questioning how statistically dominant Holmgren was at Gonzaga. At the collegiate-level, only 19 players have posted seasons with a PER of 30.0 or higher, true shooting percentages of 65 percent or higher, offensive ratings of 125.0 or higher, and an Offensive Box Plus/Minus of 7.5 or higher. Of those 19 players, only Holmgren - along with Anthony Davis (2011-12) and Brandon Clarke (2018-19) - blocked over 3.0 shots per contest. And in those respective seasons, Davis and Clarke knocked-down seven three-point attempts combined.
Hence, unicorn talk...
So I did my very best to highlight (up front) the many aspects that make Holmgren such an elite prospect. It’s important to keep in mind how many tangible things the seven-footer does on the floor at an elite-level. Undoubtedly, if it weren’t for his frame, Holmgren would be the unquestioned top prospect in this draft class.
But looking past his incredibly rail-thin frame is something that many scouts and basketball fans alike just can’t seem to do. And I get it, how could you not question what the NBA is going to be like for a seven-foot prospect who has yet to crack 200 pounds? I’m sure Holmgren has heard questions about his frame throughout his entire basketball career, so the observations are nothing new. I’m not obtuse or naïve enough to realize that many prospects have entered professional basketball on the rather thin side. Kevin Durant (6-10/215 when drafted), Davis (6-10/222 when drafted), Dwight Howard (6-10/240 when drafted), Giannis Antetokounmpo (6-9/196 when drafted) - the NBA is littered with players that have managed to add additional strength and bulk to their frames since they entered the league as rookies.
However, with Holmgren, weren't not talking about a prospect that is just a little underweight. He’s viewed by many as a ‘once in a generation’ player for reasons other than just his unique skill-set. There just haven’t been many prospects that have ever been drafted in the lottery with Holmgren’s combination of height and weight.
The following is a complete list of players drafted in the first round over the last 20 years who were 6-11 or taller (with shoes) AND 215 pounds or lighter on draft night (*all measurements came from the NBA Draft Combine database except Isaac’s, which is an estimate based off his rookie year measurements): Austin Daye (15th pick in ‘09, 6-11/195), Nerlens Noel (6th pick in ‘13, 7-0/205), Thon Maker (10th pick in ‘16, 7-1/215), Skal Labissiere (28th pick in ‘16, 7-0/215), Isaac (6th pick in ‘17, 6-11/205), Aleksej Pokusevski (17th pick in ‘20, 7-0/200).
Simply put, I went out of my way to find some of the lightest big men drafted in recent league history, and in some cases Holmgren still weighs 10-20 pounds less than them. What I’m most concerned about with Holmgren is his ability to ultimately add enough requisite strength/weight to his frame so he can reach his full ceiling as a prospect, because he’s already so far behind where so many others started their career. Add 25-30 pounds of muscle to his frame, and he would still be considered ‘small’ compared to other NBA-level big men. When Howard was drafted by the Magic out of high school, you could just see in his wide-shoulders a frame that had the ability to add bulk/strength down the road. With Holmgren, I see narrow shoulders and an upper-body/posture that doesn’t appear to be conducive to banging with other NBA centers in the painted area (although, much of his game is perimeter-oriented anyway).
Holmgren had a freshmen season for the ages in ‘21, but when he did struggle, it was usually against teams with NBA-level athletes. Teams like Texas, UCLA, Duke, Alabama, Texas Tech, Memphis, and Arkansas tried to bully Holmgren by getting into his body, pinning him underneath the basket, and knocking him off his line as a live-dribbler when he drove to the basket. You could also make a solid argument that the physicality those programs played with caused Holmgren some problems defensively as well, as he averaged just under four fouls per game in those seven contests (fouled out in both of his final two collegiate games), compared to just 2.7 fouls per game he committed on the season.
Making a case for the Magic to draft Chet Holmgren #1 in the 2022 NBA Draft
|Does Holmgren fit the Weltman/Hammond archetype?||Absolutely|
|Would Holmgren provide the Magic with depth in a needed area?||Not really|
Last season, the Magic ranked 28th or lower in the NBA in the following categories:
FG%, 3PT%, PTS, Offensive Rating, and eFG%
Would drafting Holmgren help the Magic improve in any of those areas?
|Does Holmgren possess the upside to be considered the 'best player available'?||Perhaps|
I like to finish these reports by attempting to incorporate a Magic-specific approach to how certain prospects may be viewed by Orlando’s front office.
As we all know, decision-makers Weltman and Hammond have a ‘type’ of player that they value, the archetype of a player they have targeted (and drafted) numerous times already during their time in Orlando. Both Weltman and Hammond value character, long-term projectability, positional-size and versatility, and of course - length. For the most part, the greater a prospect’s wingspan to height differential tends to be, the better. Besides all being viewed as high-character guys, you can see a little of what Orlando’s front office values in their recent draft picks, such as Isaac (positional-size, versatility, length), Mo Bamba (record length, projectability), Chuma Okeke (versatility, length), Suggs (projectability, positional-size), and Franz Wagner (positional-size, versatility).
Of the three presumed top-tier prospects in this class, Holmgren probably best profiles as the type of player that Orlando’s management group has salivated over in the past. The Gonzaga product boasts a 7-6 (+6) wingspan to go along with his wiry frame. Holmgren could theoretically offer the Magic significant positional-size on the perimeter, considering he will likely play a big forward position for the initial part of his career (until he possibly adds more bulk to his lower half). Magic executives are drawn to versatile prospects, and of the players who are likely to hear their names called early in this draft, none may be more versatile than Holmgren (perimeter skills, shooting acumen, pick-and-roll threat, switchable defender, rim protection, basketball instincts).
But mostly, Holmgren seems to make a lot of sense as potentially Orlando’s number one pick because he’s the prototypical ‘boom-or-bust’ prospect that has been picked near the top of drafts before - the ‘homerun’ swing, if you will. Maybe Holmgren doesn’t step on the floor and put up the numbers that a Banchero or Smith Jr. does over the first handful of months in their respective NBA careers. Weltman and co. would be more than comfortable with that, because they’ve never shown anything but the utmost amount of patience with all of the players drafted by the Magic since Isaac in ‘17.
The Magic are not necessarily looking to draft the 2022-23 NBA Rookie of the Year with this pick. They’re looking to select the best overall player from this class by the time years three and four roll around on that respective player’s rookie contract.
Adding depth to their frontcourt doesn’t seem to be a pressing ‘need’ for the Magic on the surface, but leading-off the draft doesn’t usually equate to teams picking to fill needs anyway. Orlando has committed long-term (4/$50M contract agreed to last October) to fourth-year center Wendell Carter Jr., so you know for certain that he is a part of the organization’s future plans in their front-court. After Carter Jr., things get a bit murkier. Of course, Orlando has Isaac under contract for three more seasons (2022-2025), but it remains a bit unclear what exactly the Magic can expect to get from their fifth-year forward after he’s missed the last two seasons recovering from a serious left knee injury he suffered in the bubble (‘20). They also have 2019 first round pick Okeke in the mix (16th overall), but his presence on the roster shouldn’t/wouldn’t stop the Magic from drafting Holmgren. And there’s certainly no guarantee that Bamba, who’s coming off a career season that saw him serve as the primary starter at the center position for the first time, will be back with the Magic next season either. Orlando’s former sixth overall selection from the 2018 NBA Draft was not granted an extension by the Magic prior to the start of this past season and is set to become a restricted free agent.
So there does seem to be room - if Holmgren were to be the pick - for the Minneapolis native to thrive in Orlando’s system, both in the short and long-term. If the offensive efficiency Holmgren enjoyed over his one season at the collegiate-level translates to the NBA, the seven-footer could be a boon to the Magic offense. And we all can just imagine the impact that his mere presence on the floor could provide Orlando’s defensive-front (along with the defensive upside of Suggs, Isaac, Okeke, Carter Jr., etc.).
ESPN currently ranks Holmgren atop their list of “best available prospects” in the ‘22 class. Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) lists Holmgren second on his board, while Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) has the versatile big man third on his big board.
Weltman and Hammond struck gold drafting a lanky forward from Greece - Giannis Antetokounmpo - with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Holmgren isn’t the obscure future superstar that Antetokounmpo was coming to the states, a player who was drafted with relatively minimal risk (that clearly worked out better than anyone could have ever imagined).
Instead, Holmgren is a wildly popular - and widely polarizing - prospect who will ‘make or break’ the careers of front office members that are looking to swing for the fences. Weltman and Hammond are not afraid to step in the batter’s box and take that big swing for the Magic.
And who knows, perhaps a skinny-kid from Minnesota will finally provide the Magic with the ‘home run’ talent they have desperately been searching for.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.