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The Positive Impact of Chet Holmgren’s Absence: How the OKC Thunder Gained from Missing Their No. 2 Pick Last Season

Oklahoma City faced an unexpected challenge last season when they had to prepare for their 2022-23 campaign without their highly-touted No. 2 draft pick, Chet Holmgren, due to a season-ending injury.

Initially, this appeared to be a setback for the Thunder, as they had hoped to complete their young core with the addition of Holmgren, a 7-foot-2 rim defender. It seemed like they might be in for a disappointing season with low expectations for success.

However, the outcome was quite different from what was expected. The team managed to win 17 more games than projected for the season.

What’s more, this setback actually had some positive outcomes. It provided an opportunity for lesser-known talents like Jaylin Williams and Kenrich Williams to step up, and other bench players also got a chance to contribute.

Despite dealing with injuries and experimenting with different lineups throughout the season, the Thunder surprisingly became a top-10 team in the Western Conference.

The growth and contributions of these role players who gained valuable experience became just as important as Chet Holmgren’s development in his rookie year, contributing significantly to the team’s ability to secure 40 wins on the season.

Was it a worthwhile decision for Holmgren to spend the entire year on the bench so that other players could progress and develop?

No, not at all. However, given his injury, the development and on-court experience gained by the Thunder’s backup players in his absence will be a crucial step forward for the franchise’s aspirations to return to the top of the Western Conference.

The improvement of these backup players, along with the additions of Holmgren and rookies Cason Wallace and Vasilije Micic, has bolstered Oklahoma City’s depth and strengthened their overall lineup.

If Holmgren’s backups are entrusted with similar responsibilities as he would have had, it gives head coach Mark Daigneault more flexibility and confidence in making in-game decisions.

Despite lacking a paint-defending big man, aside from Jaylin Williams who might fulfill that role, the Thunder’s overall defense managed to stay competitive, ranking 13th in defensive rating.

It has been mentioned before, but the addition of Holmgren as their center could potentially elevate the Thunder’s defense to a top-seven or even a top-five level next year.

When examining Holmgren’s potential impact on defense, it’s important to look at the best defenders, especially those who have won Defensive Player of the Year awards or are dominant defenders. Typically, these players are found in the frontcourt positions.

An interesting case is Marcus Smart, a point guard who won the award two seasons ago, a rare occurrence since Gary Payton did it with the Seattle Supersonics in 1996, a legendary defender.

Prior to Smart, the award was mainly won by frontcourt players, highlighting the difficulty of perimeter defense compared to defending the paint, which involves protecting the rim and handling weak-side help and pick-and-roll defense.

With the addition of Holmgren and his potential to become a significant presence in Oklahoma City’s defensive interior, combined with the second unit’s valuable experience from the previous season, this team has a high ceiling in the coming years.

While Holmgren will face significant challenges in the upcoming season, his strong work ethic, skill set, and physical attributes should enable him to hold his own against some of the top talents in the league.

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