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Chet Holmgren, Or The Guard Trapped In A Center’s Body

Another seven-footer ranked high in his HS class? It must be the height... You can’t be more wrong, so learn the lesson and update your views on Chet Holmgren as his skill set can’t be further from that of yesteryear’s big men.

SLAM Summer Classic 2019 Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There is this thing called rankings which lists some stuff in some sort of way. To make the list, the items must first be identified, then properly assessed in terms of their value for what the list measures, and then—normally—arranged in descending order starting with the most valuable or best atop. Chet Holmgren was a ranking-breaker from day one.

But let’s start at the beginning because it would be the most reasonable thing to do and possibly the only way to understand this whole story.

Imagine being from Minnesota. Imagine play ball there, trying to reach the heights other hoopers from past years and generations touched. Wait, what? Can you even name a single Minny-hometown basketball phenom from the past 15 years? Tyus Jones? Kris Humphries? Perhaps current Dukie Matthew Hurt? Ugh, it’s tough. Nobody looks Minnesota’s way when trying to find the next big thing, am I right?

Well, that is why making a name for oneself growing in The North Star State is as hard as it comes. Tell Chet, who as you can imagine was just another item in the warehouse not long ago. In fact, he was just a rather average or even mediocre one if put on a basketball perspective. Six-nine as a freshman? Huh. Good-not-great, I guess. That’s five times my height, sure, but it is nothing out of the realm of hoops. Oh, and it came attached to a weight of what? 170 pounds at best? That was some pocket-sized Manute Bol, at best. Another kid in Minny at worst. That is why this item wasn’t found earlier, and thus made no lists.

But size is not everything in basketball. Ask Steph Curry. Just in case you’re totally new to this whole sport, Curry is a player for the Golden State Warriors. It might sound like a stretch, but Curry changed basketball. Believe in this one. Before there was a Curry, there was a Ray Allen, you might say. Of course. Before there was a Ray Allen, there was a Reggie Miller, a Mookie Blaylock, and a Michael Adams. Sports evolve, so basketball did too. The jump from those to Curry, though, was a little insane. That’s why kids around the nation—and the globe if we push it a bit—are training Curry’s traits, no matter how tall or short they are. No more murderous tendencies around the hoop, blasting bodies in the paint, or back-and-bumping near the basket. It’s all about the long-range strike now.

Reason No. 1 Chet was trained just like that. Curry and a bunch of other present-day shooters are what kids aim to become one day, no matter their talent. Coaches know it and they are injecting their young ballers with that Curry sauce from day one. Holmgren was taught to play as a smallish player in an average-sized body, which truly fitted the bill. Then, overnight, Holmgren woke up and instead of six-feet-something he was all the way up to 7-plus feet of height. Say what!? Well, I cheated there, as it didn’t happen overnight, but you got it. It was all developing in a span shorter than Chet’s freshman year duration, where he grew an approximated inch per day. Again, that’s a stretch (how fitting) but you know what I mean.

This item wasn’t just average and lost in Minneapolis, but he was also a mid-sized body trained to play a game that suddenly would need to adapt to a 7-foot, 190-pound frame. Even if you found this piece of a hooper, how were you supposed to tell what you could make of him?

Some scout decided to put Chet Holmgren’s name in his notebook last year. Then he passed the name around, shared his—mostly random—thoughts about him with some peers, and at the end of the day—actually, in the middle of 2018—Holmgren could finally see himself ranked in some places. “Ranked” doesn’t mean “highly ranked”, just in case. Let’s say he just made the cut and went from the warehouse to the main store shelves, but you still had to dig to find him between all of the available products. Just so you can have an idea of this whole thing: in a zombie apocalypse scenario, he would still be one of those last chunk tuna cans left in the obscure, raided, destroyed, abandoned supermarket.

Destiny must have wanted it the way it ended up happening, though, as Chet had the chance to play for Minnehaha as a freshman, showcase his true-guard abilities trapped in a big-man body, and excel at it. How much, did you say? Well, considering he went from being the No. 61 prospect in the nation this past April to the No. 4 in September, I’d say quite a bit.

And that completed the whole ranking process. If you go to any scouting service and look at the top of the leaderboards for the 2021 HS class you’ll see a bunch of very known faces. If you’re a follower—at least to an extent—of grassroots hoops then some “Kuminga”, “Baldwin”, and “Banchero” names must ring a bell in your brain. But perhaps “Holmgren” scapes your knowledge. You’ll see Chet and you’ll most probably think something akin to “oh, hey, a white boy tall as a pine ranked high? Must be the height and nothing else...”, and you’d be wrong as hell.

Let me remind you, Holmgren was a guard until one day he became a center, or so they labeled him as. The comparisons to Kevin Durant are not wrong at all. In fact, they might be the most precise ones I’ve seen thrown around forever. Everybody is looking for the easy comps these days and it’s not hard to find even the sharpest of scouts out there putting together kid’s names to those of legends, even LeBron James. Crazy, but real. As real as close Chet could be to becoming the next Durant, that is.

Behind the back ball moves, between the legs dribbles, long-range shooting ability and a full assortment of soft motions is what you’ll find in Chet, so don’t let his size fool you. There is no question Holmgren is a tad bit slim to battle with other big men inside the paint, but it is not that he needs it. He’s put on some weight lately though, and the evolution is very notable, though he doesn’t care about labels but rather about getting them buckets all around the court, inside-and-out.

I’m not saying size hasn’t helped—remember, it’s basketball, and we midgets can’t compete with even the smallest of those giants out there in the court—but Holmgren’s value is far from being even remotely related to his height. Hard-assigned positions are starting to fade from the game, and I swear I wouldn’t be surprised if I find Chet labeled as something like “big-point-wing” when introduced come draft night or prior to his first NBA game.

Chet Holmgren started from the bottom. He made the most of his chances. Developed his game to fit his average body and current trends. Adapted it to his new frame. Kept everything up and even raised the bar. Called for eyes. Received that attention. And now it seems like he doesn’t know how to stop improving on a daily basis.

Don’t be fooled by the frame, and respect Chet’s game. He oozes it.