Chet Holmgren's comeback made a resounding impact in a 95-85 victory for the Thunder against the Jazz during the summer league. With a burst of athleticism, Holmgren denied Keyonte George's drive to the basket, adding another block to his tally for the night.
Throughout the game, the Utah Jazz found themselves repeatedly thwarted by Holmgren's impressive wingspan. The return of the second overall pick of the 2022 draft was the highlight of the Oklahoma City Thunder's triumph in their initial summer league encounter.
The Thunder entered the game with a clear advantage in terms of talent. Their starting lineup consisted of last season's runner-up for Rookie of the Year, along with the second and twelfth-overall picks, and a third-year guard.
In contrast, the Jazz were without their top rookie, Taylor Hendricks, and only fielded Ochai Agbaji and Keyonte George as notable players.
The talent disparity became evident by halftime when the Thunder established a commanding 59-43 lead. It's worth noting that summer league quarters are shortened to 10 minutes, making their 43-point second quarter even more impressive.
In the fourth quarter, the Jazz made a valiant effort with a 23-13 surge, but the Thunder's comfortable 20-point lead entering the final frame proved insurmountable.
The Thunder's sharpshooting from beyond the arc was a key factor in their victory, converting 13 of their 31 attempts (41.9%) compared to the Jazz's 9-of-34 (26.5%) performance.
Leading the Jazz were their young talents. Agbaji scored 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, while George contributed 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Luka Semanic also made a notable impact with 13 points and six rebounds.
For the Thunder, it was a comprehensive team win, but the outcome of summer league games holds limited significance. The most exciting aspect of the night was witnessing the dominant performance of the Thunder's young core and the highly anticipated return of Holmgren, who spent the entire 2022-23 season recovering from a Lisfranc injury.
Expressing his joy upon his return, Holmgren said, "It was great to be back with these guys, man. I love all of them. Let's keep working."
The Thunder are optimistic that this game is a sign of things to come as they continue their journey with Holmgren, despite a rocky start. Now, let's evaluate the Thunder players' performances.
Holmgren quickly shed any rust he may have had after a slow start in the first quarter. Within just 10 minutes, the seven-footer found his rhythm, showcasing his skills after nearly a year without competitive play.
In his first appearance since last year's summer league, Holmgren tallied 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 29 minutes.
Reflecting on his performance, Holmgren remarked, "Once the game came to me and I let it come to me, things started to open up, and we opened up a lead as a team."
Within minutes of being on the court, Holmgren demonstrated the immense impact he can have on the Thunder squad, particularly in terms of rim protection and a traditional center presence—areas where they struggled last season. His defensive presence disrupted Utah's offense through blocks and deflections, showcasing his magnetism towards the ball.
Offensively, Holmgren found his rhythm in the second quarter, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He displayed his versatility by finishing inside the paint and creating his own shot with a pull-up jumper.
Holmgren's physicality was another noteworthy aspect of his game. Having gained 13 pounds since last year's summer league, the 21-year-old fearlessly initiated contact with Jazz players. This is a promising development for someone who has faced criticism for his slender frame.
While his performance may not have garnered as much attention as his summer league debut last year, Holmgren reminded everyone why he was the second overall pick with his remarkable display on the court.