Chet Holmgren has been the Rookie of the Year so far: How Thunder center emerged from Victor Wembanyama's shadow

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Chet Holmgren
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Victor Wembanyama has received all of the hype this season, but it's been Chet Holmgren who has been the best rookie thus far.

The comparison isn't particularly close, either.

While Wembanyama is scoring and rebounding slightly more than Holmgren, Holmgren is blowing Wembanyama out of the water in terms of efficiency. Here's how the two rookies compare statistically as of Nov. 29, 2023:

Holmgren Per Game Wembanyama
17.9 Points 19.2
8.0 Rebounds 9.5
53.8 Field goal % 43.0
43.1 3-point % 27.5
87.0 Free throw % 82.4

Holmgren has a chance to be the first rookie in NBA history to enter the hallowed 50-40-90 club of shooting percentages from the field, 3-point line and free throw line. Wembanyama, on the other hand, is getting his points but taking a ton of shots to get there. 

Holmgren does have some built-in advantages over Wembanyama. He's older, he's had a year to observe the league on the bench and his teammates are much better. None of those negates the fact that present-day, he's had a better season than Wembanyama. 

How has Holmgren been so successful thus far, and what does it spell for his future?

MORE: Victor Wembanyama is living up to his loftiest player comparisons

How Chet Holmgren has emerged from Victor Wembanyama's shadow

Chet Holmgren is already one of the best shooters in the league

Holmgren has been amazing as a shooter. His 43.1 percent from deep is in line with what Stephen Curry shot as a rookie and a top 25 mark in the league. Holmgren puts constant pressure on defenses with his ability to pop out to the 3-point line on ball screens, opening up the rest of the floor for teammates. 

Holmgren has also been great from midrange, shooting 48.3 percent on those shots on the year. His release is so high that he can easily get to that shot, even against other centers

Everyone knew that Holmgren could shoot it coming into the draft, but he's been even better than his 39.0 percent as a freshman at Gonzaga. He's been neck-in-neck with Paolo Banchero as the best shooting big man in the game this season.


Chet Holmgren is more than just a shooter

What has been one of the more surprising developments from Holmgren is how good he is at putting the ball down on the floor and driving to the hoop.

That handle was one of the question marks for him coming into the league. Instead, it's been a significant plus. He's shown some serious shake. His go-to is a spin move, which he can also pair with an up-and-under that creates great separation for him. 

Because of how lethal Holmgren is as a shooter, he's been able to attack hard closeouts and create shots for himself going downhill. That driving ability has allowed him to utilize strong passing instincts as well. He's been great at hitting the frequent cutters that the Thunder employ or throwing dump-offs for easy layups.

Holmgren already does a lot of the other little things well, too. He can lay the wood down to create separation for his guards on screens. He has superb footwork to set up his fadeaways — he made Nikola Vucevic dance in getting a wide-open one against the Bulls. He has good touch on his layups and can make some acrobatic finishes. He can finish with power through smaller players

All of this adds up to a player with an extremely high skill level. He's been a way better scorer than anticipated. 

Chet Holmgren is already a fantastic defender

Depending on what you're looking at, Holmgren is either good or great as a defender. Advanced statistics like Estimated Plus-Minus place him as the No. 2 impact defender in the entire league. 

There's probably some noise in those early numbers, but they do reflect that Holmgren has excelled as a defender. More traditional statistics like his 2.2 blocks per game are outstanding — he's tied for No. 5 in the league. And per Crafted NBA, opponents are shooting 11.5 percent worse at the rim against him, ranking in the 87th percentile of all players. 

What stands out most about Holmgren's blocks isn't how demonstrative they are. (More often than not, he'll tip the ball to keep it in play rather than punch it into the third row.) Rather, he's special in his ability to remain in plays and make multiple efforts in order to dissuade shots. 

Great shot blocking was expected based on Holmgren's prolific college numbers. The bigger concern was how his skinny 195-pound frame would hold up to some of the massive centers in the league. He's had some "Welcome to the NBA" moments. (Andre Drummond gave him a couple in a row). The Thunder have tried to protect him against some of the toughest matchups, playing him alongside other bigs against Joel Embiid, for example.

Overall, Holmgren has played well and has had to do so primarily as a center. He has All-Defensive potential on that end of the floor. Combine that with his terrific offense, and he's been the best rookie of a great class. 

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Stephen Noh is an NBA writer for The Sporting News.