San Antonio Spurs Draft

San Antonio Spurs: Chet Holmgren could be the light at the end of the tunnel

Chet Holmgren
Chet Holmgren / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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When I saw Chet Holmgren cross up Steph Curry, I didn't imagine I'd be writing about him as a potential solution to the San Antonio Spurs' problems just a few years later.

But after following the Minneapolis native's path for the past few years, I've quickly hopped on the bandwagon. I now firmly believe that Holmgren just might be the light at the end of the tunnel for a Spurs team that is slogging their way through a rebuilding season.

Holmgren wasn't a household name when he went viral for bamboozling Curry with his own move, but three Minnesota state titles with Minnehaha Academy and a number one overall ranking later, Holmgren is putting himself firmly in the conversation for the number one overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. All of this as he helps lead the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in their mission to return to the NCAA Championship.

Chet Holmgren is a two-way force that could make the San Antonio Spurs' recent struggles worth it.

Watch Holmgren play for just a few minutes and you'll likely see a number of sequences that perfectly illustrate his unique impact on the game and why he's exactly what the NBA is looking for right now. Against 2nd-ranked UCLA on Tuesday, he made his presence felt on both ends of the floor, blocking shots with ease before taking them coast to coast for an easy dunk.

The dunk is nice but what stands out more is the ease with which Holmgren rotates and blocks shots. He's averaging 3.7 blocks per game right now and is up to 26 blocks on the season - good enough for 2nd in the country - through just six games. For perspective, Gonzaga's team leader in blocks last season, Drew Timme, recorded just 23 blocks across 32 games.

Blocks aside, Holmgren's length and quickness make him a fixture around the rim. Even when he looks out of a play, he's never really out of the play. Much like Rudy Gobert, he can be a near-ever-present deterrent around the rim, no matter where he might be on the court at the time.

Even if it doesn't always translate to the box score, it's hard to overstate the impact that Holmgren can have on opposing teams just by making their players consistently alter their shots to get around his massive wingspan.

Holmgren's ability to put a lid on the rim on a nightly basis is exciting in itself but what he does on the other end of the floor is equally intriguing. He can impact the game in any way he likes.

As a playmaker, he's shown an ability to throw well-timed, cross-court passes, can find the cutting man, and throws a well-placed outlet pass. All of this has helped him rank second in assists on the Bulldogs behind their outstanding point guard, Andrew Nembhard.

When he wants to score on his own, he can put the ball on the floor, shoots 39 percent from behind the arc, and hits 77 percent of his free throws. Overall, he ranks 19th in NCAA in true shooting percentage so far this season. He's still learning, but right now Holmgren has the look of a player who can influence every facet of a team's offense.

Should Chet Holmgren's physique be a deterrent?

The elephant in the room for Holmgren is his physique. Yes, he's a tantalizing 7-foot tall unicorn. But that unicorn also happens to just weigh 195 pounds. That's a real concern and I'm not going to fault anyone who would rather take a more NBA-ready player such as Paolo Banchero or Patrick Baldwin if they were making the first pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

But can we all take a moment to realize just how long it takes to fill out a 7-foot frame with NBA-level muscle? It's not the kind of process that happens overnight and it certainly doesn't happen by the time you're 19 years old unless you're the rarest of the rare. Put Holmgren in an NBA strength and conditioning program, put a full-time nutritionist in charge of his diet, and wait. He's probably not going to have the body of Shaq or Giannis, and that's perfectly okay, he can still be an incredibly dynamic NBA player.

Is there a level of risk in picking Holmgren? Absolutely there is. But for a small-market team like San Antonio, those are the kinds of risks you have to take. The Spurs aren't a top-tier free agent destination and, ideally, they won't be back at the top of the lottery anytime soon. If they're there this season, they have to make it count by taking a home run swing.

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That swing is a 7-foot rim-protecting monster who can hit threes at a high level and drop dimes over the outstretched arms of overmatched defenders. Players like that don't come around often. He's got all the potential in the world, and Chet Holmgren just might be the talent that makes this season worth it in the end for the San Antonio Spurs.

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