SALT LAKE CITY -- Chet Holmgren showed both signs of rust during his first game in 11 months and plenty of glimpses of his potential to make an immediate impact for the Oklahoma City Thunder in his upcoming, delayed rookie season.
Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft who then missed the entire season due to a right foot injury that required surgery, had 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks during the Thunder's 95-85 win over the Utah Jazz in Monday's Salt Lake City Summer League opener.
The game did not get off to a pretty start for Holmgren, the 7-footer who suffered a Lisfranc injury during a Seattle pro-am contest during his last game appearance in August. He went scoreless in the first quarter, airballing a finger roll and badly missing a couple of turnaround jumpers, as well as dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds.
"The last thing I wanted to do was come out here and be timid, so I wanted to come out of the gates and be aggressive and look to impact the game," Holmgren said. "Obviously with that, you can make mistakes or miss shots, and that's part of the game. Whether you've just played a hundred straight games without missing one or missed the whole season, mistakes come with the game, and I just got to learn from them."
Holmgren found his rhythm in the second quarter, when he scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and he displayed his unique skill set for a player his size the remainder of the game. He missed his lone 3-point attempt but made several plays off the dribble after attacking closeouts, including a nifty up-and-under that he finished with his left hand after driving into the paint.
Holmgren brought the ball up the floor on several occasions, something rarely seen from a 7-footer. In one instance, he grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed the ball to get the Thunder in transition before delivering a beautiful, 40-foot touch pass to power forward Jaylin Williams for a layup.
"That's just new-school basketball," Holmgren said with a smile. "I look forward to making it happen more."
Not surprisingly, Holmgren's biggest impact came on the defensive end. He is considered a rare defensive prospect because of his ability to protect the rim and hold his own against guards on switches. Three of Holmgren's four blocked shots Monday were two-handed swats after Jazz drives. The most spectacular was a rejection of Utah first-round pick Keyonte George, on which Holmgren slammed the ball to the floor with two hands like a volleyball middle blocker, generating oohs and ahhs from the Delta Center crowd.
"He makes paint protection very easy," said Thunder forward Jalen Williams, the Rookie of the Year runner-up last season who scored 21 points in 22 minutes. "He gives everybody a lot more confidence to get up and guard the man a lot higher. I think he does a good job and figuring his way out down there, too, to help, and it makes it easier for us as well to zip around and move there."
Holmgren has been fully cleared since near the end of the Thunder's season in April and has played in pickup games, as well as one-on-one and 3-on-3 since. Still, returning to game action was a significant step.
"The foot feels great," Holmgren said. "It's like the injury never happened, other than everything I had to go through obviously. But at this point, if you erased my memory, I wouldn't know that anything had happened to my foot other than the scars from surgery. But conditioning-wise, there's millions of hurdles that you have to go through in the process of returning to play. Not being able to play a game for a year, it's really, really hard to test and see where you are."