In an early regular season meeting between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets, the matchup between rookie sensation Chet Holmgren and the formidable Nikola Jokic unfolded like a masterclass for the young rookie. Despite Holmgren’s impressive start to the season and overall good performance against the former two-time league MVP, Sunday’s game against the defending champions revealed the challenges he faces in the physically demanding world of the NBA.
Holmgren, the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, has been making waves with his exceptional skills and versatility after sitting out last season due to injury. However, his encounter with Jokic, a two-time MVP, served as a stark reminder of the more physical hurdles he must overcome in his rookie campaign.
From the opening moments of the game, Jokic demonstrated his dominance, effortlessly scoring twice over the 7-foot-1 Holmgren in the post. Despite being less athletic than Holmgren, Jokic used his nearly-75 pound advantage on the rookie. I mean, in states with legal sports betting, picking Jokic to win this matchup was an easy bet,
Jokic’s has been maneuvering around more athletic players his entire career. And playing against Holmgren was much of the same, but against a 210lb beanpole. The Joker scored at will and highlighted the rookie’s need for physical development and experience in handling elite NBA big men. Just watch:
And that set the tone for the rest of the game, where Jokic showcased his size, his understanding of spacing, timin and positioning to effortlessly score 28 points on an impressive 12-16 shooting while also grabbing 14 rebounds, passing for 5 assists.
Holmgren, despite his undeniable talent, faced challenges in containing Jokic’s unique approach. The Thunder’s promising prospect managed to score 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, showcasing his offensive prowess. However, the disparity in physicality became evident, emphasizing the importance of Holmgren’s growth and adaptation to the NBA’s rigorous demands.
It was hard to decipher the contrast in experience and physicality between the seasoned Jokic and the budding talent of Holmgren. Jokic, a veteran with a unique frame and skill set, imparted humorous Jokic-wisdom to the young rookie telling reporters “I think he needs to be a little bit fatter, to be honest.”
Jokic expanded: “He’s a really talented guy, but this is his first year. He’s still learning everything: the game, how quick it is, where is (he at) an advantage, where is [he at] a disadvantage. I think he needs experience. But yes, he has a talent that is unique.”
Suggesting that Holmgren needed to more poundage to his slender frame isn’t a new critique for Holmgren or fellow rookie Victor Wembanyama. These are college students coming into the league that is full of Jonas Valančiūnas, Zion Williamsons, Joel Embiids, PJ Tuckers, and other strong-as-a-bull NBA players.
While Holmgren’s matchup against Jokic served as a great first test, it highlighted the areas where the rookie must focus his efforts to elevate his game. As the season progresses, Holmgren’s development will be closely watched, with the hope that he can learn from these encounters and emerge stronger, both physically and mentally, in his NBA journey.