Chet Holmgren gave the basketball world a taste of what he could serve at the professional level with a eye-popping debut in summer league.
The No. 2 overall selection in the 2022 NBA draft didn’t disappoint in his debut at the Salt Lake City Summer League, scoring 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the field including four 3-pointers. The 7-foot-1 forward/center also grabbed seven rebounds, had four assists, and set a new SLC summer league record with six blocked shots.
After the game, ESPN’s Holly Rowe brought up the record for blocks with Chet and without hesitation he said he’ll break it again. The confident response showed the type of swagger the 20-year-old rookie possesses. And his supreme confidence definitely showed in his performance against the Utah Jazz summer league team, a game dominated by OKC 98-77. He struggled a bit in his second outing as the Salt City altitude sapped his energy on the back-to-back game. Despite being visibly fatigued, Holmgren still managed to post 11 points, 12 rebounds, and had two blocks against Memphis.
Holmgren scored his first basket on a dunk, then splashed three consecutive 3-pointers from the top of the circle that drew oohs and aahs from the Salt Lake City crowd in attendance. He flashed the otherworldly ball-handling skills for a 7-footer, putting the ball behind his back, crossing over defenders, and comfortably bringing up the ball up the court to trigger the offense. Holmgren also made a move that would have made Dirk Nowitzki proud. He drove the lane, spun to the middle of the paint and drained a one-legged fadeaway.
But the most impressive skillset Holmgren displayed was his shot blocking. The Jazz had a couple of massive big men in Kofi Cockburn (7-0, 290 pounds) and Tacko Fall (7-6, 311 pounds) to go up against Holmgren and he more than held his own. Holmgren, whose slight 195-pound frame was a major concern for some scouts during the draft process, wasn’t bothered or overwhelmed in the paint by the bigger Cockburn or Fall. In fact, Holmgren’s enormous wingspan bothered Cockburn and Fall. Holmgren was credited with six blocks, but it felt like he should have had more. He rejected Cockburn’s first shot and blocked Fall’s shot without much of a jump.
Kevin Durant was one of the many watching who was impressive with Holmgren. Durant definitely noticed the sneakers Holmgren wore for the game. KD tweeted: “I see u cookin 7. First day on the job was a success, love the kicks @ChetHolmgren.”
Durant might one of the few people who understands the amount of pressure some of these young guys face entering the league. Durant was the No. 2 overall pick by OKC in 2007 and he also had many detractors regarding his slight build. Safe to say, KD’s career turned out just fine.
There’s a certain superstar quality about Holmgren. He naturally stirs attention because of his game and his frame. Second-year guard Josh Giddey, who shared the court with Holmgren in his summer league debut, already seems to have great chemistry with Holmgren on and off the court.
“The hype that he came in with, and the way he played tonight was big for us,” Giddey told Rowe after the game about his new OKC teammate.
“Being a high pick like that, there’s a lot of pressure coming in, and he handled it as well as he could have,” Giddey continued. “Makes my job really easy playing with someone like him, who can stretch the floor, finish at the rim, protect me — he’s got my back on the defensive end. Love playing with him. It’s been one game, and the chemistry’s only getting stronger.”
Here’s how the other top draft picks from the 2022 class did in their first summer league games:
Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero went head-to-head with No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. on Day 1 of the Las Vegas Summer League and walked away with not just the team victory (91-77) but also won the individual matchup against his draft classmate.
Despite being a little rusty for not playing 5-on-5 fullcourt basketball since Duke’s season ended in the NCAA Final Four in April, Banchero showcased his huge potential as he scored 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting including two 3-pointers. He also dished out six assists and displayed smooth ball-handling skills for a 6-10, 250-pound power forward. Banchero seemed to relish the challenge of playing against Smith, who looked a little tentative at the start before getting going in the second half. Banchero was far from tentative as he was decisive with the ball and threw a couple of terrific pin-point passes.
Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley liked what he saw. Mosley told ESPN’s Mark Jones that he was impressed with Banchero’s feel for the game. “[He’s] willing to make the simple play. Not trying to do too much,” Mosley said. Many basketball observers were shocked that the Magic took Banchero over Smith in the draft, but after watching him in Vegas the Magic appears to have made the right choice.
Banchero backed up his superb debut with an even better performance in his second game, scoring 23 points in leading the Magic to a 94-92 overtime win over the Sacramento Kings.
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jabari Smith Jr. had a shaky debut in summer league, getting outplayed by Banchero in their highly anticipated matchup in Las Vegas.
Smith looked nervous early in the game, scoring just one point in the first half. He couldn’t get any type of rhythm on offense partly because the Rockets guards were hijacking the offense. Smith had a better performance in the second half and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. But there’s no panic on the Rockets as they understand one game won’t define the 19-year-old Auburn standout and he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
“There’s a poise about him that’s well beyond his years,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said of his prized rookie forward.
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Niele Ivey, Jaden’s mom, gave her son a B+ on his first outing in summer league. The grade could have been higher if not for Ivey’s unsteady first half when he had four turnovers and played out of control. Once the fifth overall pick found his footing and eased up on the gas pedal, he thrived as he finished the game with 20 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
The Purdue All-American guard flashed his blazing speed in the second half, including one play where he split a trap and turned on the afterburners on his way to the basket for a layup. He also threw down an alley-oop dunk on a fastbreak that wowed the Thomas & Mack Center crowd.
The knock on Ivey entering the draft was his inconsistent 3-point shot. He drained two shots from behind the arc to show that he’s capable of making them. They were more like set shots than true jumpers, but as long as they go down the Pistons won’t mind.
Ivey’s time at the Vegas summer league was cut short after he suffered an ankle injury in his second game. The injury was a setback, but it won’t change how the Pistons view Ivey as being an integral part of their rebuilding process.
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Bennedict Mathurin, the No. 6 selection in the draft, made a lot of noise off the court when he made a bold statement in a pre-draft interview with the Washington Post. Mathurin told the Post he wanted to see how great LeBron is. “I don’t think anybody is better than me,” Mathurin said. “He’s going to have to show me he’s better than me.”
Mathurin brings a boatload of confidence, which is exactly what the Indiana Pacers need to give their struggling franchise a boost. Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle was in attendance in Vegas and had to like what Mathurin displayed on the court against the Charlotte Hornets. The 6-foot-6 Arizona product backed up his bravado with an efficient debut in summer league, scoring 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. He knocked down the first of his three 3-pointers on the Pacers’ first possession and never looked back.
Mathurin showed he’s a three-level scorer with above-average 3-point range. He wasn’t rushed on any of his moves and also competed on the defensive end.
He followed up his impressive debut with a solid performance in a 101-87 victory over Detroit. In that game, Mathurin scored 20 points, had five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He went 5-for-9 from the field and converted 9-of-10 free throw attempts. Carlisle told NBA TV that Mathurin is an NBA scorer right now. “He has tremendous upside because there are parts of his game that are still very raw and that’s exciting,” Carlisle said. “We view that as an exciting thing, not a negative by any stretch.”
Shaedon Sharpe (Portland Trail Blazers)
The biggest mystery of the draft was the biggest disappointment on opening night of the Vegas summer league. Shaedon Sharpe, the seventh overall pick in the draft, played just six minutes against the Detroit Pistons before shutting it down for the rest of the Vegas summer league. An MRI showed Sharpe suffered a small labral tear in his left shoulder.
Despite Sharpe’s short stint, Portland Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups remains optimistic about the 6-6 wing and is excited to see his development.
“He plays with a veteran’s pace. You can’t really speed him up. For a 19-year-old kid, [he’s got] pretty good feel for the game. He’s got this quiet competitiveness that I really like. I think he’s got a chance to be a special talent.”
Billups also pointed out that Sharpe — who hasn’t played in an organized basketball game in almost a year — will be learning from one of the best leaders in the game in Damian Lillard. Lillard, who was in attendance in Vegas, won’t allow Sharpe to settle for being average.
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Keegan Murray showed the Sacramento Kings that he’s ready to roll if the regular season started today. Sacramento’s No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft was easily the best player in the California Classic at San Francisco’s Chase Center. In three games against the Miami Heat, L.A. Lakers and Golden State Warriors summer league squads, Murray averaged a tournament-best 19.7 points. He also averaged 8.0 rebounds and had a solid plus-minus (+13) while averaging 30.1 minutes per game.
The 6-8 forward made his first basket the first time he touched the ball in his pro debut — a corner 3-pointer. He finished with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range with eight rebounds in the Kings’ 86-68 win over the Warriors.
The former Iowa standout looked extremely comfortable on the court on both ends and played with veteran-like poise. Aside from the offensive efficiency (50% from the field), Murray has rebounded (7.3 boards) and defended well for (1.3 steals).
Murray continued his stellar summer with an outstanding performance in Las Vegas. He went over the 20-point mark in each of his games in Vegas, including against high-profile matchups against Banchero and Holmgren. Murray is the first rookie top-10 draft pick to average 21 points per game in the Vegas summer league since Damian Lillard did it in 2012.
The consistency Murray, who averaged 23 points per game during his sophomore season at Iowa, has shown throughout the summer could be a precursor of what his rookie season for the Kings could look like. The Vegas Summer League MVP should make an immediate impact for first-year coach Mike Brown.