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NBA Draft: There has never been a player quite like Minnesota native Chet Holmgren

The 7-footer from Minnehaha Academy is a lock to be a Top 3 pick in Thursday night’s draft

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga
Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren celebrates after a Gonzaga three-point basket against the St. Mary's Gaels in February. Holmgren, a Minnesota native, could be the No. 1 pick in this week's NBA Draft.
James Snook / USA Today Sports
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If anyone is “responsible” for creating basketball’s 7-foot “unicorn” that is Chet Holmgren, it’s Larry Suggs.

Suggs, the father of Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs, helped Holmgren evolve from a lanky, lackluster player he met when Holmgren was in elementary school to the mythical monster from Minnesota he has become today. Even with the center’s size, Suggs insisted Holmgren develop guard skills similar to those of his son, or fellow Minnesotan Tyrell Terry, who also is now an NBA player.

The result is unlike anything most have seen before, and the payoff is about to be huge.

Holmgren is a lock to land among the top three picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft — and likely will go top two — just one year after Jalen Suggs was selected No. 5 overall by the Magic. Orlando now possesses the No. 1 overall pick and have the option to pair Suggs and Holmgren. two lifelong teammates who played together most recently at Minnehaha Academy.

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No, Larry Suggs doesn’t know if that match will be made. He’s as eager as anyone else to find out. What he does know is whoever drafts Holmgren is getting a special player. one who can’t really be compared to anyone who came before him.

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“I’m not trying to be any one player,” Holmgren said on a conference call this week. “I’m trying to be like the first me.”

It won’t be hard to distinguish him from the rest. For now, Holmgren will undoubtedly be grouped with the other skilled 7-footers currently in the NBA, players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis and even Kevin Durant, although Durant certainly doesn’t identify as a center.

It’s possible Holmgren won’t either, but his defensive prowess pushes him toward that bucket. Larry Suggs hasn’t seen a shot blocker like him in his lifetime. As others who have been around the game for a long time watched Holmgren, they too determined he was one of the best swatters they’d witnessed. Part of that can be attributed to his 7-foot-6 wingspan. Part of it is his ability to quickly land from one jump and take off for a second or third moments later.

Part of it is the instincts Holmgren said he developed by playing every day for the last nine-plus years. And part of it is his will to defend the bucket.

“It’s definitely something that some people don’t do. Some people don’t take pride in defense,” Holmgren said in 2020. “People say they’re great scorers, but what’s the point of getting two points if you give up two points on the other end? I don’t see the point of that.”

Suggs used to motivate Holmgren to block shots by including some incentive. He knew the big man could swat shots 10 rows into the bleachers if he wanted. But the best rim protectors managed to keep the ball in play.

So, Suggs told Holmgren if he corralled the rebound off his blocks, he could run the ensuing fast break.

“He did it often,” Suggs noted.

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He was good at that, too. That’s another area in which Holmgren differentiates himself from other skilled bigs. With Grassroots Sizzle AAU, Holmgren would bring the ball up and come off of drag screens at the top of the floor, then make the right play from there, whether that’s pulling up from deep, attacking the rim or finding an open teammate.

Suggs hasn’t seen 7-foot centers execute that. Frankly, the only 7-footer in the League who can do that is Kevin Durant.

“But I’ve seen Chet do that countless times,” Suggs said.

That’s the type of passer and playmaker the big can be. In that way, he has Nikola Jokic-like abilities, a player through which you can run an offense. Or you can just run the offense through others and Holmgren will try to make an impact on the glass and the defensive end.

In that way, he’s like Warriors’ forward Draymond Green. Holmgren was comfortable scoring 12 points a game in high school, or 25. It legitimately didn’t matter to him. “I feel like no matter what level, situation or circumstances I’m in, I’m going to do what I have to do to figure out how to be effective and help my team win,” he said.

That’s the type of player he was brought up to be.

“It comes down from the parents. If your parent buys in, you’re good,” Suggs said. “For Chet, it is rare to have a kid that talented that does not care about the points and says, ‘Hey, I’ll do what I need to do to win the game.’ He’s a great competitor, and when it comes down to it, he’ll do what’s needed to win. … He’s the ultimate team guy.”

That’s why there really isn’t anyone like Holmgren in the NBA. From his height to his skillset to his attitude, no one can replicate exactly what he brings to the floor.

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Maybe that’s why he’s so difficult to evaluate. But Suggs has the scouting report down pat.

“I just think he’s a very unique basketball player,” he said, “and a pretty (darn) good one.”

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