A Ligament in Chet Holmgren’s Foot Exploded and That Might Be Good
1:14 PM EDT on August 25, 2022
Sure, it was only Summer League--and Utah Summer League for that matter--but it was one of the most enjoyable basketball games I have ever watched.
The young Thunder core, headlined by four lottery picks from the past two drafts, just annihilated a team of players trying to prove they deserved NBA contracts. While four-time Rookie of the Month Josh Giddey certainly ran the show, it was Chet Holmgren being the figurative "straw that stirs the drink."
It was a masterful performance by the freshly signed 7'1" rookie. The stat line of 23 points, seven rebounds and six blocks somehow understated the impact he had on the game. Chetty Spaghetti had an effect on every play of the game. He set the Summer League record for blocks in a game, but every shot the Jazz team took was still altered, if only mentally, because of Holmgren's presence in the arena.
Then on offense, he did things humans of his stature should be incapable of doing. Multiple times, he stopped on a dime with a behind-the-back dribble and calmly splashed a long three-point shot, a move made famous by Stephen Curry.
On an isolation play, he converted an off-foot step-back shot from the corner of the lane that I had only seen two players attempt before (Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant). All of this focused the attention of the defense on him whenever he was on the floor, yet he still slipped past their notice for a couple of uncontested dunks.
The excitement throughout Thunder Twitter was palpable that night and the weeks following as Chet provided monster performance after monster performance through summer leagues in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and a Pro-Am tournament hosted by former Sixth-Man-of-the-Year Jamal Crawford.
It was at the Pro-Am that our story shifts from comedy to tragedy.
The renaissance of Thunder basketball has been put on hold as news has filtered out that Chet's rookie season has been postponed by a torn ligament in his foot. In a press conference this morning, the team's President of Basketball Operations announced that Holmgren will miss the entire season after surgery decided upon with consultation from three of the nation's top foot specialists.
"Certainly, we are disappointed for Chet, especially given the excitement he had about getting on the floor with his teammates this season. We know Chet has a long career ahead of him within our organization and the Oklahoma City community...I feel bad for Chet because he's had a monster summer, being around plenty of NBA players and getting better. He's absolutely the right guy for us. His spirits are high and he's ready to roll with the rehab."
The injury, itself, is more common in football players than basketball players. While guarding LeBron James on a fast break a tendon in his foot tore. In the video below, which Thunder fans have poured over like the Zapruder film, you can see he jumps to contest LeBron's shot, but does not want to land on his right foot:
Presti was very optimistic about the long-term outlook. He brought up names of other players whose first seasons were lost to injury and went on to be stars -- Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin -- as examples of how players can grow during their first year and thrive in the league even if they never play a game.
On the flip side, he did not mention players like Greg Oden and Zion Williamson who missed their first season and then missed most of the rest of their careers because their ligaments were made of pudding.
This is where we get into the question of how ominous this injury is to Chet's ability to make the OKC Thunder a competitive team again. The fans who clamored for the team to select someone (for some fans--anyone) else at the second pick are feeling very vindicated right now. His pencil-thin frame was bound to be snapped in half like a termite-infested fence slat, they are saying. However, that really is not the situation here. Seeing as how this injury typically occurs in football players, it is not like carrying that extra weight makes one's tendons stronger.
There will always be an inherent risk of injury in a person the height of Holmgren. Human bodies have not evolved to exist at that size. It's why you don't see many seven-footers getting their birthdays celebrated on Good Morning America. The cartilage, ligaments and tendons that hold those skeletal pieces together are no different than what is keeping ordinary-sized people, presumably like you, together. As such, it is not uncommon for big men to suffer more injuries.
Yet, the risk is usually worthwhile because height is a theoretical skill that cannot be taught.
With enough time, desire and physical ability, a giant like Holmgren can learn to do the skill-based moves of someone like Steph Curry--as Chet proved against Utah. Given eternity to work on it, Steph is never going to be able to protect a basket with his arm length. A risk of injury is just something NBA teams have to accept. Considering that Chet has never been injured before, was injured playing in a gym that was not up to NBA standards (the game was eventually canceled due to condensation on the floor), and a history of players recovering from this injury (Nick Collison suffered it early in his career), there is still reason to be bullish on the future of OKC's pick at #2.
What does it mean in the short term?
The timing is not great. OKC's mayor has recently opened the conversation about a new arena for the Thunder who are coming off two straight seasons of producing a product unappealing to all but the most fervent basketball fans. Chet's arrival had stirred feelings of excitement in the casual fans who yearn for the team to challenge for titles.
Now, the team is asking them for continued patience. Warts that caused the team to lose heaps of games and get in position to select Holmgren still exist and will likely continue their presence in the draft lottery. While the 2023 draft is supposed to be loaded with talented players, that will not be much of a consolation for voters who will be called upon to okay funding meant to appease the billionaires that own the team.
For the fans that are more tuned in to the plans for the future, this is kind of a blessing in disguise.
Chet's arrival was welcomed, but his potential to push the team into a more competitive position this season had the potential of lowering the Thunder's ceiling going forward. That's because the aforementioned 2023 draft class has more future superstars than the 2022 class had.
At the top, Victor Wembanyama from France is seen as a generational talent. Scoot Henderson in the G-League, Arkansas' Nick Smith, and Overtime Elite's Thompson twins are all players that could have challenged for first pick overall status had they been allowed to declare this year.
Being in a position to draft early next May is not a bad thing. Now, after a year of studying film and working with NBA-level strength coaches and dietitians, he will be in a stronger position to start his career, possibly flanked by another future star.
At least we hope. Right now, it just sucks.