Men's Basketball: Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren Is Blocking His Way To A Historic Season | GMTM
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Men's Basketball: Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren Is Blocking His Way To A Historic Season

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Wed Mar 09 2022

|

3 min read

Men's Basketball: Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren Is Blocking His Way To A Historic Season

If you have even a passing interest in college basketball, chances are the name Chet Holmgren sounds familiar. The five-star freshman, considered a near-lock to be picked in the top five of this year's NBA Draft, has wowed fans and foes alike while playing for #1 Gonzaga. Averaging a near double-double (14 Pts, 9.7 Reb) with terrific efficiency (.616 field goal percentage, .438 three-point percentage), defenses constantly have to account for where the slippery seven-footer is on the court. Whether it's as an off-ball shooter or even a ball-handler, Holmgren is a weapon on offense that Mark Few has used exceptionally well; the Bulldogs are third the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Holmgren is a bonafide NBA talent with a toolbox of skills to choose from on offense. However, the Minneapolis native's blocking ability is what truly separates him from the rest of a loaded draft class. Words like "good" and "great" don't do Holmgren justice; his shot-swatting prowess is simply historic. Coupled with a high basketball IQ, and it's nearly impossible to score in the paint against the Zags while their young phenom is on the floor.

Blocking Brilliance

With an absurd 7'6 wingspan, it's impossible for opposing offenses to enter the paint against Gonzaga without acknowledging Holmgren's presence. Even when a speedy guard thinks he's found an angle to the basket, Holmgren is there. He doesn't need to force contact; instead, vertical arms, while barely jumping, lead to block shots, a perk of being freakishly tall and athletic.

Holmgren currently sits at fourth in the nation in blocked shots, averaging 3.59 per game. Among Power 5 players, only Walker Kessler (4.66 per game) has been better. Holmgren's blocks are even more impressive when you take into account the limited amount of minutes he's played this year. Due to some combination of early season foul trouble, late-game blowouts, and having another dominant big man on the roster, Gonzaga has only played Holmgren for an average of 26.8 minutes per game. If he played 40 minutes per game, Holmgren's blocked shot average skyrockets to 5.3 per game.

It's the combination of rim protection and overall defense that has NBA scouts drooling over Holmgren's potential as a two-way player. This graph from Bart Torvik shows the leaders in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), a rate based stat that views defense on a per-possession basis, and block percentage, which measures the rate of shots blocked while a player is on the court.

Amongst all NCAA players, only Kessler, another player having a historic defensive season, is in Holmgren's class. While there may be better shot-blockers on a per-possession basis, few can combine that with quality on-ball and off-ball defense.

Doing It All

A quick look at Holmgren's single-season blocking puts him in elite company. If we view his per-40 mark (5.3 BPG), Holmgren would sit at 14th all-time in single season blocks, just above Shaquille O'Neal's 1991-92 season. Among players from so-called High Major schools, Holmgren's per-40 block average would be second all-time (for the sake of this comparison, Gonzaga qualifies for the "High-Major" distinction). While it's reasonable to expect players like Shaq to have had even more blocks if they played 40 minutes per game (Sports Reference does not track per-40 minute stats until the 1992-93 season), the fact that Holmgren is even comparable as a freshman is an impressive feat.

Unlike most of the players on the NCAA's blocks leaderboard, past or present, Holmgren provides arguably more value on offense than defense. In fact, he might be the most well-rounded player in college basketball. Among all qualified players this season, only Holmgren has a mark above 7.0 in both offensive box plus/minus and defensive box plus/minus. Since 2008, only Anthony Davis, another all-time great freshman, has reached the 7&7 club, making Holmgren part of an elite company of two in college basketball history.

from 2 + 43
from 3, ranking 3rd in the NCAA in true shooting
. Changing everything around the rim. Gonzaga ranks 5th in the country in 2-point defense in large part due to Holmgren’s presence. pic.twitter.com/0GZYkOnISD

— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) 5Etfw">January 28, 2022

Despite their immense talent, there is no guarantee that Gonzaga will win an elusive NCAA championship (just like last year). Still, what Holmgren is doing this season is a rarity: a two-way big with elite shooting and shot-blocking skills that NBA teams covet. How teams game plan for Holmgren in March, and how he adjusts, will tell us a lot about his game going forward. Until then, enjoy one of the greatest individual college basketball seasons of the past decade.

Just don't count on seeing something similar any time soon.

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