OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City forward Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in this year's NBA draft, will miss the 2022-23 season with a right foot injury.
The 7-footer was hurt while playing in a pro-am game last weekend in Seattle, near where he starred last season for Gonzaga, and the Thunder announced Thursday that he sustained a Lisfranc injury. Video appeared to show Holmgren was hurt on a play while defending a LeBron James drive to the basket on a fast break.
General manager Sam Presti said Holmgren will have surgery to repair the ruptured tendon on a date that hasn't been determined and he expects Holmgren to be ready for the 2023-24 season.
“Long-term prognosis is obviously very positive for this,” Presti said. “We’ve consulted with three of the top foot specialists in the country. Everybody is in agreement that this is kind of like a wrong place, wrong time situation and he’s going to make a full recovery.”
His injury is a significant blow for a franchise that has not won a playoff series since Kevin Durant left for Golden State in 2016 and has had two straight losing seasons. Holmgren averaged 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds last season for Gonzaga and was fourth in the nation with 3.7 blocked shots per game. He had a strong summer league performance, giving Thunder fans hope that the team's potential superstar of the future soon would be making a difference.
“He was just having a monster summer,” Presti said. “He’s been playing with tons of NBA players over the course of the summer and getting better and better and better. In this case, we are just going to have to wait a little bit longer for his presence to actually take the floor for us.”
Presti has no issue with Holmgren having participated in the Pro Am event and said such games and venues are approved by the league. The game, which also featured Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum, had to be stopped because of the floor conditions, though that didn't appear to cause Holmgren's injury.
“Guys are playing all over the place all the time, everywhere,” Presti said. “If you have players that love to play, they are going to play basketball. Every time you step on a basketball court, something like this could happen. It could happen in a game. It could happen in a practice. It could happen in a scrimmage. ... It’s just part of it.”
Presti said the injury won't prompt the Thunder to give up and tank for a better position in the 2023 draft, as some fans have suggested.
“We just have to focus on what we can control, and I think that we have a group of guys that will continually get better for quite a long time,” he said. “But we’re still scaling the mountain in the Western Conference, and we have to see where that goes. We come into every season the same way since 2008, which is we have to wait to see how the season unfolds.”
Skeptics pointed to Holmgren's slender build as a liability and a reason he perhaps should not have been drafted so early. The year offers him time to add to his 195-pound frame, among other things.
“He’s going to get better just by getting stronger, just by seeing things differently, just by learning the NBA,” Presti said. “All that’s going to be happening. He’s going to be able to shoot. He’s going to be able to do a lot of things with the ball."
A high draft pick having to sit out his first NBA season isn’t unprecedented, and in some cases it hasn’t stopped players from reaching All-Star or even MVP-caliber levels.
Ben Simmons went No. 1 overall in 2016 and missed the following season with a foot injury. Blake Griffin was the top pick in 2009 but had to sit while recovering from a knee injury, as was the case with No. 1 selection Greg Oden in 2007.
Reigning NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid was the No. 3 pick in 2014 and missed his first two seasons with foot issues. Nerlens Noel was the No. 6 selection in 2013 and missed what would have been his first season with a knee problem, and Michael Porter Jr. was the 14th pick in the 2018 draft and missed the ensuing season with a back injury.
It even happened previously to the Thunder franchise: Nick Collison was the No. 12 pick in the 2003 draft by Seattle, unable to play that following season with shoulder issues. Collison went on to spend his entire career with the Thunder, getting his No. 4 jersey retired — the first such honor bestowed by the team in the Oklahoma City era — and remains part of the team’s front office.
There have been other instances of lottery picks missing what could have been their rookie years, including Jonas Valanciunas — the No. 5 selection in 2011 — not being able to join the Toronto Raptors until a year later because of his contract status with his European team at the time. Dario Saric and Ricky Rubio were lottery picks who played with their overseas clubs for two more years before coming to the NBA.
Presti isn't worried about Holmgren long term and believes his drive will allow him to handle the recovery process well.
“I think he’s well-positioned to do a good job with it,” Presti said. “There’s going to be some tough times now, don’t get me wrong, but he’s got what it takes and he’ll be ready when he’s ready to come back. I think he’ll be a force.”
AP Basketball Writers Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
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