If the Orlando Magic selects Auburn forward Jabari Smith with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, which rival teams see as a “formality,” according to ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony, the overwhelming expectation, Givony added, is that the Oklahoma City Thunder will select Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren with the No. 2 pick.
There are Holmgren loyalists and Holmgren haters, and not much in between.
No one denies Holmgren’s jaw-dropping upside. He’s a 7-footer who can playmake and shoot threes, and on defense he’s an elite rim protector. He’s also shy of 200 pounds, and there are concerns that his body won’t hold up against the Oklahoma wind, much less against Nikola Jokic.
Some Thunder fans seem smitten with Holmgren while others are afraid he’s Aleksej Pokusevski 2.0. Pokusevski, who’s just six months older than Holmgren, isn’t and never was the same caliber of prospect as Holmgren, but it’s easy to see the similarities.
Just based on physical appearance, Pokusevski is probably the best NBA comparison for Holmgren. But while their size and stature are the same, their games hardly mirror each other.
We caught up with three NBA Draft experts and asked them to compare Holmgren to Pokusevski. We also got their expert takes on whom the Thunder should select at No. 2.
You’ll hear from: Rafael Barlowe:the director of scouting at NBA Big Board, Matt Babcock:the owner and founder of Babcock Hoops, and: Derek Murray:who works with Babcock and writes for BasketballNews.com.
Murray worked for the Thunder on the business side, and he was mentored by general manager Sam Presti and others on the basketball operations side. Murray has since made a career for himself in the scouting world.
Let’s get to it.
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What would you tell a Thunder fan who’s concerned that Chet Holmgren is too similar, and carries similar risks, to Aleksej Pokusevski?
Barlowe: “I get the concern. I really do. You’ve got two guys who are really, really thin, but skilled. “
Babcock: “The main concern with Chet Holmgren is his lack of physical strength, which is similar to Pokusevski, and is a valid concern, in my opinion. However, Holmgren is a far superior prospect overall, and also their styles of play are quite different. Pokusevski does a lot off the dribble as a perimeter player, although he’s nearly 7-feet tall. Holmgren is versatile, but I think he falls more into a big stretch with outside shooting and rim protection as his key attributes. ”
Murray: “I think it’s unfair to assume they’re the same player. They are polar opposites in my opinion. Chet has the potential to be an elite, all-world rim protector – innate timing, hands, good feet. His instincts on the defensive end are special, and unlike what we’ve seen in quite some time.
“In the NBA, I think Chet has the potential to be a 40% 3-point shooter off the catch and off the move. His shot is nearly unguardable. The release point is ridiculously high. ”
Barlowe: “The biggest possible question mark is does Chet see himself as a four or five in the NBA? There are some rumblings that he thinks he’s better as a wing, but he’s had to play the post because he’s always been taller than everybody. He may see himself as a wing. ”
Murray: “You do not mind letting (Holmgren) run the pick-and-roll, but I just do not see Chet being that guy in the NBA. In spots? Yes. I just do not see that being part of the game plan every night. Poku, in an ideal world, is almost like your secondary ball handler. I would let Poku be on-ball considerably more than (Holmgren).
“I think you can throw them on the court together, because I do not think they’d get in each others’ way at all. I envision Poku running the pick-and-roll, throwing a pass to the corner to Chet for the open three. ”
Barlowe: “The Thunder, they have the luxury of being patient, seeing which one of them works out. There are some similarities, though.
Murray: “Do not give up on Poku yet… The adjustment to the NBA level, that was never gonna be easy, it was never gonna be quick, it was never gonna be a two-year thing. You knew that when you picked him. So that’s where I have comfort in the development team here and Mark (Daigneault). “Even if he struggles again this year, I’m not hitting the panic button.”
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Holmgren, despite his skinny frame, is known as being incredibly competitive and fiery. That’s something the Thunder has had to pull out of Pokusevski, who does not always bring it every night. How do you see the personality differences in their games?
Barlowe: “(Holmgren) does have a competitive fire, and he does have a toughness to him that you can not teach. Chet isn’t a guy you’re gonna have to rev up or try to get going. I think there is an inner drive in him to prove himself. If you just listen to some of his quotes, he’s extremely confident in himself. That could possibly be the biggest difference between the two. ”
Murray: “With Chet, I know the physicality issues are there. I’ve talked to teams that say, ‘Our doctors don’t believe he’ll actually be able to put on good weight.’ Whether or not that true, I’m not a doctor, I have no idea, but it’s been conveyed to me. What I’ll give him is he is as mentally and physically tough as they come.
“Even if he struggles to put weight on his whole career, there will be no part of me that is worried about him being that kind of competitor or at least trying to get down there and bang and put his body on the line. That’s not a fear of mine at all. It’s, is his body going to hold up? ”
She Said, He Said: Chet Holmgren? Jabari Smith? Paolo Banchero? Here’s who Thunder should draft:
Put yourselves in Sam Presti’s shoes. If the Magic picks Jabari Smith at No. 1, who do you select at No. 2?
Barlowe: (Paolo) Banchero. You know what you’re gonna get with him right away. I’d be more comfortable giving him the ball and say: ‘score.’ I think he is a very good passer, which he does not get a lot of credit for, but you’ll see it in the NBA. With Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Banchero as your top three guys that are capable of initiating the offense, I think you can get really creative. ”
Murray: “Oh man, my answer changes by the day. If the background stuff checks out on Banchero, that would be my pick. His offensive skill set allows him to be the most impactful as a scorer on an NBA floor both in Year 1 and probably throughout their careers.
“I do not think it’s a guarantee that Chet goes one or two. It also would not shock me if Orlando pulled him at No. “They love length, they love unique, and Chet’s the most unique we’ve ever seen until Victor Wembanyama comes out next year.”
More: How NBA Draft prospects Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren & Paolo Banchero fit with OKC Thunder
2022 NBA Draft:
7 pm Thursday, June 23 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY (ESPN)
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: NBA Draft experts dish on Chet Holmgren, Aleksej Pokusevski comparison: