Among the myriad of overreactions over the past few weeks of Summer League, Twitter either losing or trying not to lose their minds over Chet Holmgren's first two games had to be the funniest content of the offseason so far.
To recap, Chet Holmgren looked like prime Dirk Nowitzki crossed with a hint of Kevin Durant in his first game of the Salt Lake City Summer League, dropping 23 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks on the Utah Jazz.
In his second game, Holmgren sort of got exposed. The second overall pick of the 2022 Draft was on the wrong end of some highlights against Kenny Lofton Jr., the Memphis Grizzlies’ undrafted rookie, who looked like prime Paserelle Mike Nieto trucking 10-year olds on his way to the hoop.
Kenny Lofton Jr. went to WORK tonight 🔥— NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2022
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Holmgren still had a solid game, putting up 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting with 11 boards and two blocks. But all everyone remembered was Lofton manhandling Holmgren.
At this point, people were either all-in or folding on the rookie, which goes to show you how fervid basketball fans have become.
But can Holmgren, currently listed at 7-foot-3 and 197 pounds, survive the physicality of the NBA as a skinny king? Here we take a look at some lanky legends that could illuminate Holmgren’s path to superstardom.
Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, drugs were legitimately considered recreational in the United States and most parts of the world. The copious drug use in HBO’s Winning Time is one of the few things that the show doesn't exaggerate from the realities of the time.
It was common for players to smoke in the locker room at halftime. Pregame meals used to consist of donuts and hotdogs. Scoring was high because players didn’t have the energy to try on defense.
Enter the Iceman. George Gervin was an ABA and NBA superstar for the San Antonio Spurs, most known for popularizing the finger roll (or jelly layup for those born in the 2000s) and the most wicked poster in the history of sports.
Gervin was graceful with his drives to the paint and had a nifty midrange game that allowed him to compile four NBA scoring titles and 26,595 points.
He was also only 180 pounds standing at 6-foot-8 with barely any muscle definition. No one ever told the Iceman he was too skinny to play in what still is touted as the most violent era in the NBA. They were too busy trying to stop him.
If there was a true renegade of American sports in the ‘60s to late ‘80s, it’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Not only was he incredibly politically active, he also did a lot of yoga.
Abdul-Jabbar had to be creative with his body because, like Chet Holmgren, he was playing a physical sport with a wiry frame. At his peak around the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, Abdul-Jabbar was listed at 7-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He was playing in an era with the burliest, meanest bigs in league history like Moses Malone, Nate Thurmond, and Dave Cowens.
Still, Abdul-Jabbar was nothing short of dominant. He was a six-time NBA champion and six-time MVP. His most underrated stat was his longevity. He played 20 seasons in the NBA and was an All-Star for 19 of them. The display of durability allowed him to eventually climb atop the all-time scoring list, where he still resides today.
He did all this by practicing a very healthy diet because of his religion. He was physically dominant in his young years and eventually evolved into a graceful giant in his late 30s. If Holmgren was to take anything away from Abdul-Jabbar, it’s that he probably doesn’t need to scarf down massive amounts of calories to be in “NBA shape”. Kareem was sporadically a vegan or vegetarian during his prime.
There were other lanky stars of this era like Ralph Sampson and Bol Bol that had similar dimensions as Holmgren. But they were riddled with injuries that hampered their peaks – an outcome we don’t want for Holmgren.
The ‘90s, out of any era, gets the most street cred for its physicality because of all the hard hits, hand checking, and general non-basketball contact players got away with.
Enter the ‘90s skinny assassin in Reggie Miller. The Indiana Pacers lifer has his own reels of getting into guys’ chests and he did it standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing 180 pounds in his prime.
Miller was the premier off-ball attacker – the predecessor to the style guys like Rip Hamilton and Klay Thompson would adopt to ruthless efficiency. He sprinted around and through screens until he was either open or his defender was physically and mentally drained from chasing him. He also set some mean screens – the type of off-ball screen Steph Curry currently uses to generate space.
While Miller played a totally different position than Holmgren, the Gen Z NBA Holmgren is entering doesn’t actually care about positions. Players are matched up based on skillsets. Miller should show Holmgren a style of play on offense he can adopt based on his unique combination of shooting, ball handling and muscle mass.
There were other scrawny killers of this era like the aforementioned Hamilton and Allen Iverson. However, like Sampson and Bol, they were very injury-prone.
Finally, we come to the final evolution of thin star. Durant is the apex predator on a diet. He was going to be called Slim Reaper until he publicly shunned the nickname. There’s some poetry to OKC’s second franchise savior being another rail-thin unicorn.
Currently listed at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Durant has supposedly maxed out his body at this point in his career – a big improvement since he came into the league at 200 pounds.
If there’s anyone that can prove that being yoked isn't a requirement to be a superstar in today’s NBA, it’s KD. He’s a different body type – slim with narrow shoulders, just like Holmgren. Like Holmgren said in an interview with ESPN, he’s probably never going to be 260 pounds of muscle.
But he does need to get stronger. Taking care of your body is the common thread that binds lanky legends like Abdul-Jabbar and Miller. Holmgren likely will find a way to dominate the game in his own way. We don't need to shove creatine down his throat.