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3 reasons the OKC Thunder are about to hit monster home run with Chet Holmgren in NBA Draft

Chet Holmgren Sam Presti Thunder OKC Draft

The Oklahoma City Thunder have finally been blessed with their big break. After Year 3 of its quest to acquire every single first-round pick known to man, the lottery gods have bestowed upon them a top three spot in the upcoming 2022 NBA draft.

After netting the number two overall pick in last week’s lottery, it’s now turned into a question of which of the prized prospects are they going to select. The top three NBA draft prospects are all but set in stone at this point: Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr., and Duke’s Paolo Banchero.

The only external factor set to shape their decision hinges on the braintrust of the only team picking ahead of them – the Orlando Magic. According to a report from ESPN’s NBA draft experts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz, the Magic are leaning towards Jabari Smith Jr., with the OKC Thunder getting linked to Chet Holmgren.

While Magic executives have made it clear they will conduct a thorough process — even extending beyond the widely believed top three prospects in Smith, Holmgren and Paolo Banchero — most NBA teams firmly believe that’s a formality and that Smith is all but assured to become the top pick. Smith, for his part, appears thrilled with that development. So is Holmgren over his looming marriage with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is also the overwhelming expectation from NBA executives with whom we spoke at the draft combine. — Givony

With the Magic already set at the center spot with Wendell Carter Jr. signed up until the 2025-26 season, Jabari Smith Jr. looks to be their guy. That plays right into OKC’s hands. Among the three most coveted prospects, both Smith and Holmgren seem to be the two best fits for OKC. But Chet Holmgren is truly the home run swing that the Thunder need to take.

#1 – He’s an evolved species of unicorn.

We’ve seen guys like Chet Holmgren before. Kristaps Porzingis, the man dubbed the original unicorn, was a unique combination of shooting and shot-blocking that had the NBA world buzzing over big men who could do it all. Since then, we’ve seen guys like Mo Bamba and Bol Bol get teams and fans excited. Centers built like Rudy Gobert but offer more tantalizing offensive traits than your typical shot-blocking center.

But Chet Holmgren is what everyone wishes their freak of nature center prospect could be.

He shot nearly 40% from three-point land with over three attempts per contest. This isn’t your typical lumbering big man who just happens to shoot threes with a slow release. Holmgren’s jumper looks fluid and easily translatable to the NBA game, taking them like someone who’s had it in his game all his life – because he has.

Chet Holmgren also has an advanced handle for someone of his size. And while he hasn’t shown the shot-creation that elite scorers have, he is simply oozing with potential to be something the NBA has rarely seen from someone of his size. No telling if he’ll ever get there, but he has all the tools to make it possible.

#2 – The OKC Thunder are built for positionless basketball.

The appeal with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander when he was coming out of Kentucky was that he was this 6’6″ point guard with elite size and length for someone at his position. Josh Giddey at the wing spot offers that same positional versatility given that he has the court vision and decent ball-handling ability while possessing a solid 6’8″ frame.

Chet Holmgren fits into that mold perfectly. He’s not exactly an on-ball playmaker but he can defend multiple positions from the jump. He can instantly become a net positive on offense if he can hit his outside shot.

That will allow him to be inserted into a host of different lineups at Thunder coach Mark Daigneault’s disposal. Once he gets comfortable with his handle, he could even start to get more aggressive on offense while playing off two other above-average playmakers alongside him.

The OKC Thunder have two core pieces who can do a little bit of everything. Adding Chet Holmgren gives them another in the hardest position to find one.

#3 – OKC can take these gambles.

Chet Holmgren possesses an extraordinarily high ceiling. He could turn into something more than just a perennial All-Star, but a truly game-changing talent that teams move heaven and earth to trade for. A world where he turns into a Rudy Gobert-like rim-protector that also happens to be a 20-point scorer making threes off the dribble is one that actually exists in the NBA multiverse.

What makes Chet Holmgren landing in Oklahoma City a perfect pairing is that there’s no pressure on both sides to succeed right away. Sure, they can take someone safer like Paolo Banchero or Jabari Smith Jr., whichever one is available after the Magic pick. But the OKC Thunder can, quite frankly, afford to take a huge gamble.

The rebuilding odyssey that Sam Presti had the franchise embark on is only just starting to see its seedlings get off the ground. They’ll probably try to compete next year, but they won’t be panicking if they’re still bad next season and collect yet another high-end draft pick.

They can bring Holmgren in slowly, without immediate expectation to produce, while focusing solely on gradual player development. Sam Presti isn’t in any rush and likely neither is Mark Daigneault. This was always going to be a long-term project with many bumps along the way.