The Detroit Pistons finished the 2021-22 NBA season with a record of 23-59. The team edged out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the third-worst record in the league. Their bottom three finish means Detroit is tied for the best odds to land the number one pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery.
If Detroit were to win the lottery, GM Troy Weaver would have his choice of the three bigs who headline the draft. Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Duke’s Paolo Banchero and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren have all made their case to be the top selection come draft night. Of the trio, Holmgren appears to be the favorite for the Pistons, for now at least.
Holmgren was the top-rated prospect out of high school, ahead of both Banchero and Smith. He stands at 7-0 with a 7-6 wingspan. This season with the Bulldogs, Holmgren averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game. He was named to the WCC Defensive Player of the Year and named to the All-WCC First Team.
In the 2022 NBA Draft Class, Holmgren has the highest ceiling on both ends of the court. However he has one glaring weakness that could hold him back. Spoiler alert, it is his frame, but we will get to that later. There is a lot to like about Holmgren, and he has a lot to offer the Pistons.
Holmgren is a dominant rim protector
Holmgren’s 3.7 blocks per game were the fourth-most in the NCAA. Consistently, Holmgren was using the most of his 7-6 wingspan to contest shots at the rim and smother the offensive player. He possesses great timing when contesting shots.
The 19-year-old was an effective shot-blocker, both in post defense and as the help side defender. The help side is his best role on the defensive end. Holmgren consistently rotated into position to contest shots when opponents drove to the rim. A role as the help side defender will also protect Holmgren from facing much stronger centers in the post.
Holmgren provides versatile coverage in pick-and-roll defense. He can play drop coverage, he can hedge screens and he offers a decent amount of switchability. Holmgren’s agility and footwork combined with his wingspan make it difficult for opponents to get to the rim when he switches on to them.
The big man can defend along the perimeter, but he will give up some plays if he is forced to live out there. It was not often, but quick cuts to the rim were able to catch Holmgren by surprise. For the most part, Holmgren is able to stay in front of ball-handlers and cut them off from the rim. His length also makes them hesitant to shoot.
Holmgren is a versatile offensive player
Holmgren was dominant finishing at the rim with Gonzaga. The 19-year-old shot 73.7 percent on two-point attempts, most at the rim. He has a soft touch and can finish through contact. Holmgren’s long arms allow him to get a bucket from different angles.
In the pick-and-roll, Holmgren has the agility to dive to the rim and the verticality to catch and finish lobs. His height and wingspan give him a wide catch radius for lobs from the dunker’s spot.
A 39 percent three-point shooter, Holmgren is a great floor-spacing big. Gonzaga did everything to get the 19-year-old looks from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs had Holmgren pulling up in transition and playing as the trailer for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. He ran off screens, played in pick-and-pops and took dribble hand-offs. Every possible way to get a three-point shot off, Holmgren has done it. As the college season went on, he was utilized more and more in designed plays to get him a three-point look.
Holmgren is not afraid to put the ball on the floor. In transition, the 19-year-old showed the ability to take the ball coast to coast for an easy bucket at the rim. He has a fluid motion for his size which keeps his dribble under control. While he only averaged 1.9 assists per game with Gonzaga, Holmgren also flashed natural playmaking instincts. He consistently made the right reads in transition and out of the post.
What is holding Holmgren back?
March 8, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren (34) defends against Saint Mary’s Gaels guard Logan Johnson (0) during the first half in the finals of the WCC Basketball Championships at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Holmgren’s frame is the biggest concern as he transitions to the next level. Every analyst, scouting report and random Twitter user will talk about Holmgren needing to fill out his frame. It is true. The 7-0 center weighs in at only 195 pounds. Bulking up is something Holmgren has likely been trying to do since high school, but it may simply be difficult for him to put on weight.
With his lack of size, Holmgren is subject to being punished in the post by stronger bigs. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić could have a field day matched up on him. Stronger bigs can leverage against Holmgren and knock him off balance. His slight frame also means there is simply less to get around. This leaves spins and other post moves easier to pull off on him. This is why Holmgren is best utilized as a help side defender. He can still protect the rim without being outmuscled by the NBA’s elite centers.
Holmgren’s lanky arms also make it easier to pickpocket him. On the offensive boards, Holmgren consistently gets good positioning, but opponents are able to body him out of position to grab the rebound.
Holmgren’s fit in Detroit
Until he fills out his frame, Holmgren is best utilized at the power forward spot rather than as a center. He has the agility to play the four, and it also allows him to easily slot in as a help side defender. This likely means Jerami Grant is moved to a new team, but any pick in the top three would likely indicate Grant’s departure.
On defense, Holmgren would make a good pairing with Isaiah Stewart. ‘Beef Stew’ can hold down the post defense while Holmgren cleans up as the help side defender. The 19-year-old’s switchability also fits in well with the defensive scheme Detroit ran late in the 2021-22 season.
On offense, Holmgren’s versatility would open up the Pistons’ offense. If Stewart’s three-point shot becomes more consistent, the Pistons could run out a starting lineup where all five players are threats from beyond the arc. Cade Cunningham would have the lob threat that Pistons fans have been pining for as well.
In the NBA, coaches and trainers will try to help the 19-year-old fill out his frame. This is a reasonable concern. If Holmgren is unable to put on muscle, it could hold him back from reaching his full potential, but it will not stop him from contributing at the NBA level.
(Featured Image Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)