Chet Holmgren vs. The World | The Morning Dunk
Gonzaga had a massive week with two clashes against college basketball titans. With the pressure on, did Chet Holmgren cement his status amongst other elite 2022 NBA Draft prospects?
Good morning everyone! Thank you as always for choosing to read No Ceilings, our NBA scouting SubStack dedicated to offering you the most comprehensive and differentiated draft content there is.
I wanted to start there because my goal for “The Morning Dunk” is to provide updates and discuss some of the previous week’s top matchups as well as to look ahead at the week to come.
But I would be doing readers a disservice if I only made it a point to evaluate and offer insight into the same few names at the top of the majority of big boards week in and week out.
Outside of my introductory column in which I previewed the Champions Classic as well as some major opening week games, I’ve since covered 16 different prospects so far in some form or fashion. And when I use the word “cover” I’m stating that I’ve given some fair viewpoints on prospects besides the fact that he may have shot the ball well for a game or two.
So while some of you may scratch your head on occasion as to why I may not go as in-depth on Paolo Banchero for the fifth time in a row, that’s not the ENTIRE purpose of this column. If there is crucial information to be shared on someone I’ve previously written about at length, I will gladly do so. But I also want to ensure I’m providing a breadth of coverage and possibly introducing our readers to some names that previously weren’t on their radars.
I’ll also empty my notebook from time to time with thoughts and in-person observations from what I was able to see up close from the previous week. More on that later.
That being said, this column won’t stray too far outside the box as Chet Holmgren and Gonzaga quite literally took on the college basketball world this week in two battles against top five squads in UCLA and Duke.
Let’s not waste any more time and dive in.
Where Does Chet Holmgren Stand Amongst Elite Prospects?
I understand all of the physical concerns with Holmgren, let me be very up front about that.
It’s difficult to sell an NBA GM on gambling with a top overall pick to draft a center who doesn’t have a frame ready to bang down low against the giants in the league.
Yes the physicality in the pros will be far superior to what Holmgren has seen so far in college. That’s why any chance scouts and evaluators get to see Holmgren against above average competition should be emphasized on schedules.
UCLA and Duke are two games to be marked by front offices in Sharpie and then highlighted, not just circled or marked up with some stars to signify importance.
In going up against Banchero and Myles Johnson over the past week, it was fairly easy to see Holmgren get a taste of something he’s not quite ready to deal with on a nightly basis. The most prominent example on film was when Banchero lowered his shoulder and plowed through the slender big for the and-one finish.
But go back and watch closely and there are plenty of other highlights where Holmgren gets backed down deep into the paint but utilizes his unique combination of timing, anticipation and length to swat the shot elsewhere regardless of losing post position.
I can’t recall ever seeing someone with Holmgren’s frame and lack of bulk get backed down and still have the toughness, tenacity and understanding to still come up with a momentum-swinging play defensively. It’s not that he does it once during a game, but it’s a regular occurrence for him.
No matter if he gets pushed to the ground, gets a foul called on him or gets bullied and beat up like in that Banchero sequence, Holmgren has a fire in his eyes that refuses to be extinguished. And THAT’S why he’s as special of a talent as he is. His will to win and operate in multiple unconventional ways for a player his size make him stand out amongst the other top prospects in his class such as Banchero and Jabari Smith, who also had himself some notable performances in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.
Offensively against both teams, he was able to handle the ball in transition, make plays for others off the bounce, get to his spots for a shot and convert on timely offensive rebounds and cuts. Put those things together with his ability to stretch the floor reliably and bite on pump fakes and you have a dangerous scoring weapon at 7’0” tall.
The one thing I love the most about Holmgren on the offensive end is his willingness to post up and score over either shoulder as much as his ability to turn and face to get a mismatch off balance with his footwork and handle. There were a number of times where Holmgren was showed patience dribbling with his back to the basket to read what was going on around him before putting together the right combination of moves to score inside.
He doesn’t have the brute force to back someone down who’s a tank and finish through them, but he’s an excellent problem solver in the half court and isn’t afraid to draw contact or even set a hard screen up top for one of his guards. Would he prefer to slip early and use his speed and fluidity to his advantage similar to Evan Mobley? Absolutely, but I’ve also seen him step in when the defender likely wasn’t expect him to and absorb some contact to free his teammate up for a jumper on the wing.
Holmgren hasn’t been a dominant rebounder so far on either end of the floor. Mark Williams of Duke made life particularly tough for him in their matchup Friday, consistently boxing out and winning the battle on the interior, swatting shots left and right in the second half. He’s a good passer, not a great one, and he doesn’t yet have that comfort level shooting off the dribble even inside the arc yet; he’s a standstill shooter first and foremost.
When you factor in some of those negatives along with where his frame is currently at, it’s understandable to have reservations about just how high his NBA ceiling is when compared to a prospect like Mobley. But then you double back through the tape and see Holmgren holding his own defending in space, switching onto guards or wings and swallowing them up with his length, and running the floor with an uncanny smoothness for his size. Those attributes along with his basketball IQ, competitiveness and motor form a package one can’t teach.
When Holmgren was challenged by a number of NBA-caliber prospects including Banchero, Williams and Jaime Jaquez, he didn’t back down and held his own. You could tell the higher level of play only motivated him to remain active at all times and find ways to contribute even when he was close to or in foul trouble.
Bottom line: I’m not concerned by anything I saw from this past week. He looked dominant at times against the Bruins and clearly has some lessons to learn from regarding his tussle with the Blue Devils. Holmgren, however, is the real deal amongst prospects and still my top contender for first overall in 2022.
Other Prospects Of Note For Duke
I mentioned Banchero’s physical battle against Holmgren, but his complete offensive arsenal was on display against Gonzaga as he went for 21 points and 5 rebounds of 8-for-17 shooting from the field. His most notable moments came from when he gunned in two transition triples to fully announce his presence as an arrived shot maker.
The majority of scouts know how effective he can be as a fadeaway shooter off a post move or as a spot-up shot maker from the elbows, but his three-point game was always going to be the question top evaluators wanted an answer to. He eased some of those concerns, as his shot looked fluid and he was comfortable to step into those looks and knock them down even with a hand in his face.
I will continue to monitor these issues he continues to have in the second halves of games with cramping and his overall conditioning, but outside of that I have few concerns about how he will translate offensively.
He’s an established mid-range scorer, capable interior finisher and an emerging threat from deep. At this point, it’s really about continuing to polish his scoring attack, remaining aggressive yet vigilant of shot selection and putting an emphasis on defensive effort over the course of the entire season.
There have been plays from his first handful of games to nitpick a combination of lack of intensity and awareness defensively, but it’s also incredibly early in the process for a college freshman. He’s looked the part of a contender for the first overall pick, and I wouldn’t expect that narrative to change any time soon.
Trevor Keels meanwhile didn’t leave the same impression on the court in T-Mobile Arena as he did inside of Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago. Keels posted 6 assists on the night looking more comfortable handling the ball out of pick-and-roll sets and keeping his head up consistently to make a play which was nice. But he also shot 2-for-11 from the field and couldn’t it going from range in the process.
Keels is an interesting evaluation as he’s an unselfish playmaker, willing driver and shooter and has the build to defend guards, wings and possibly some forwards depending on the matchup. That type of prospect is a lottery talent in theory so long as the flashes lead to efficient play over the course of a full year. The main thing for me moving forward is how he creates his shots in terms of his setup off the dribble, and can he make shots at an efficient rate off the catch? If the answers to both of those questions are yes, then I have a feeling he’ll remain firmly in the lottery race by tournament time.
As mentioned above, Williams made quite the impression for himself in the minds of scouts and media personnel. The Twitter buzz about him that night and the next day was overwhelmingly positive and rightfully so. His mobility, coordination and defensive potential blocking shots and defending in space form a tantalizing package of skills to sell NBA executives on and only add further credence to what he showcased toward the end of last season.
If this is the Williams we can expect to see moving forward, it will be difficult to pass on drafting him in the first round and could continue to climb higher if he wins battles against other tough frontcourts he’ll continue to face.
On the Gonzaga side, I continue to remain intrigued by Julian Strawther, the 6’7” sophomore wing. It’s not just the fact that he’s shooting almost 54% from the field and 47.2% from three, but it’s how he’s setting up those shots and when he’s taking them within the flow of the offense. Yes, he’ll have the occasional jack off a step-back move that will make you roll your eyes a little, but then the next trip down the floor he’ll move without the basketball, remain patient and knock down a shot with confidence once the ball swings around to him. He has the size and length to shoot over defenses, so he doesn’t need to be fancy to pour in points from the perimeter.
Early on, he’s currently in the 96th percentile offensively per Synergy and ranks in the 89th percentile on spot up looks and 93rd percentile on jumpers overall. He’s been as efficient as they come on that end while also rating in the 75th percentile defensively, showing a comfort level stepping out and guarding one of the opposing team’s better wings.
I believe he’s a first-round talent and will remain curious to see how his stock maintains if and when his efficiency flatlines a bit.
Emptying the Notebook: Upsie NIT Season Tip-Off
I had the pleasure of seeing the NIT Season Tip-Off up close with our own Corey Taluba this past Wednesday. The main teams in action from a draft perspective were Iowa State and of course the Memphis Tigers.
I’ll actually start with some of what I saw from the Cyclones’ Tyrese Hunter, a 6’0” point guard who has gotten off to a great start this year scoring the ball especially from outside.
He wasn’t the team’s leading scorer, but Hunter did finish with 19 points including 3-of-4 shooting from deep. His ability to create separation off a series of dribble moves and drill open perimeter looks really stood out to me, as did his speed in the open court and craft to navigate through the defense and make something happen out of nothing. Not to mention his aggressiveness attacking in the paint despite who was protecting the rim for Xavier.
His quickness, handle and jumper will translate to the NBA level, but he still needs to work on his off-ball defense and keeping his head up as a playmaker. He’s not a great passer, but I think he’s a good one. He certainly knows how to get himself open, attract defenders and kick out when he sees the read emerge. So long as he continues to go through his progressions and take what the defense gives him, he absolutely has a future in the league.
I’d be more comfortable evaluating him for the 2023 NBA Draft as opposed to this year, but there are a number of scouts who think he’s already amongst some of the top names at his position including Kennedy Chandler, TyTy Washington and JD Davison.
Getting to Memphis, Jalen Duren and Emoni Bates were the main reasons why Corey and I wanted to venture to Brooklyn last week. Seeing the both of them up close and studying how they were composed both on and off the court was important intel for me personally. Good news is I didn’t see anything poor on that front from either player. I actually enjoyed seeing Bates operate as the team’s vocal leader, always looking to dap up his teammates or take charge in huddles to get everyone fired up and motivated to compete. Even when things got tough for some guys on the court, Bates was almost always the first one to try and cheer up his squad to push them to keep going. The fact that Bates could have still been in high school this year yet has taken on that level of a leadership role is inspiring and something important to note.
His play on the court, however, wasn’t nearly as polished as his communication skills with his team and coaching staff. It’s clear that the point guard experiment for Bates has run its course and that he’s not ready for that level of responsibility within the offense. Bates constantly played with his head down, and looked up to make one read and then operate East-West as opposed to North-South.
He wasn’t a creative passer or effective threat to thread the needle on the move. Matter of fact, he struggled at times to make even the easiest of passes to open teammates, leading to a number of deflections and turnovers.
Bates as a shot maker is something to behold when he’s able to catch and shoot. He doesn’t create good shots off a few dribbles just yet and absolutely settles against tight defense, but when he’s able to get something up within the flow of the offense it looks pretty. His stroke is one, fluid motion that should yield proficient results with continued work and repetition. And at nearly 6’9” there’s plenty of reason to buy into Bates as a potential volume shooter down the road for the 2023 draft. He’s not eligible for 2022, but nevertheless always important to gather insight now and revisit down the road for any noticeable improvements.
Duren also had a very mixed performance, as he got in foul trouble early and didn’t get comfortable and energized until late in the second half when he sent a few shots sailing on the defensive end and was able to throw down a few easy dunks to get his team in a groove.
Overall, his defensive impact that he could have in the NBA shouldn’t be minimized. He’s built like a brick house yet has the coordination, end-to-end speed and footwork of a wing. The power which he plays with is breathtaking when on display, but he was reserved for a lot of the game and didn’t look to get himself involved nearly often enough. He also had lapses on the defensive end although I won’t hold too many of those against him given that he had issues with fouls.
Duren is another player who could’ve been in high school this year yet elected to re-classify and play under Penny Hardaway. I applaud the decision as I think it was a step in the right direction to become exposed to a higher level of competition in preparation to enter the NBA. He’s physically ready to play, but doesn’t process the game quick enough on either end just yet. Duren also won’t be stretching the floor for a team any time soon, as his mechanics do need some work given his shot looks flatter in warmups than Dario Saric’s once did when he first came into the league.
I would still hold stock on both talents, but the Tigers not having a real point guard will hurt both Bates and Duren, most notably the talented freshman big. Duren should still look to find ways to get touches be it off rolls, run outs in transition or off post touches after he seals off his man on the block. But not having a great guard to reliably get him the ball in his spots potentially nosedives his development and is a huge reason why he may fall a few notches on big boards over the course of the year.
6 Games To Watch This Week
11/30, 7:30 EST: Florida State @ Purdue: Jaden Ivey is without question the main draw in this matchup, but don’t sleep on the Seminoles’ Matt Cleveland. The 6’7” guard has flashed some solid mid-range scoring potential and could be one of those unique weapons brought off the bench to slow down a guard like Ivey if given the opportunity. Another hot name on Twitter over the last week is Cam’Ron Fletcher, a 6’7” sophomore wing who has been particularly hot from three over his last few games.
11/30, 9:30 EST: Duke @ Ohio State: The second top-shelf game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday night will have all of the eyes on it for Banchero, Keels, Williams and co. but let’s not forget about rising junior EJ Liddell for the Buckeyes. Liddell is averaging 22.5 PPG, 6.2 REB and 3.8 BLK in 28.7 minutes a night. If he has a huge outing against Duke this week, you’ll hear his name more often in mainstream circles as a first round candidate in 2022.
12/1, 9:30 EST: Colorado @ UCLA: Another chance for Jaquez and Johnny Juzang to come out swinging against good competition. It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for Juzang, and Jaquez could certainly do more to maintain and/or improve his draft stock. Beating Jabari Walker and a feisty Colorado team could go a long way for those two as well as Peyton Watson, a top ranked freshman who’s been inconsistent to start the year. By the way, Walker could use a similar boost himself since he’s shooting under 30% from deep in the midst of what was expected to be a potential breakout candidate for the sophomore forward.
12/3, 7pm EST: Kansas @ St. John’s: I will personally be in attendance for this epic showdown at the new UBS Arena in Long Island, NY. Julian Champagnie has a lot of people excited for his NBA future with his continued long-range efficiency and improved defensive play. Nevertheless, Champagnie and Posh Alexander will have their work cut out for them against a Jayhawks squad led by the scoring hot Ochai Agbaji. I’m excited to get an in-person look at the senior wing who has taken the nation by storm and is the front runner for National Player of the Year.
12/3, 9pm EST: Iowa @ Purdue: Yes Purdue gets two shoutouts in games to watch this week! Keegan Murray has dominated competition so far on the interior and is putting up massive numbers to warrant lottery consideration by some, as high as ninth overall according to Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo in his latest mock draft. He won’t have as easy of a time pounding the paint against the Boilermakers’ Zach Edey, so I’ll be anxiously watching to see who wins the battle in the paint.
12/4, 8pm EST: Alabama @ Gonzaga: Saturday’s biggest matchup pits the titans of Gonzaga against a Crimson Tide squad looking to rebound from a tough loss to Rick Pitino and Iona. JD Davison has remained patient in his role coming off the bench, but that won’t stop him from wanting to make a big impact against some other talented freshmen who sub in for the Bulldogs in Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis. Keon Ellis has shot the ball incredibly well over the last week, look for him to potentially put the scouting community on notice as an older wing who can reliably hit perimeter shots.
12/4, 9 EST: Iowa State @ Creighton: If you have some time on Sunday to boot up a recorded version of this matchup, or if you’re a fan of either team to watch live, this is certainly an underrated contest of fun guard prospects. Hunter is still worth a watch for Iowa State if you haven’t seen him yet, and freshman point guard Ryan Nembhard has helped to propel the Bluejays to an early 6-1 record by hitting some tough shots on a nightly basis. He hasn’t balanced his assists to turnovers well yet, but he’s incredibly young and talented. Hunter against Nembhard is must-see TV.