Thunder fans, don’t compare Chet Holmgren to Victor Wembanyama

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Chet Holmgren, drafted 397 days ago, has yet to make his NBA debut. He’s played in two Summer Leagues for the Thunder but no games that count.

The Lisfranc injury — a broken foot, if you want to be generic — that cost Holmgren his 2022-23 season was bad luck.

And bad luck has led to bad timing.

Holmgren (hopefully) will make his NBA debut at the same time as Victor Wembanyama.

Both 7-foot-plus. Both highly-skilled with the ball, for players taller than 19th-century doorways. Both with wing spans that stretch from the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Tennessee. Both protect the rim with the passion of musketeers.

There’s just one difference. While Holmgren is considered a physical marvel, a unique collection of height, skill and instinct, Wembanyama is considered an extraterrestrial. A visitor from a foreign land, and I don’t mean France.

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Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) goes to the basket as Utah's Micah Potter (25) defends in the first half during an NBA Summer League game July 3 in Salt Lake City.

Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) goes to the basket as Utah’s Micah Potter (25) defends in the first half during an NBA Summer League game July 3 in Salt Lake City.

Taller than even Holmgren. More skilled, too. More reach. Billed as the best NBA prospect ever, though such declarations foolishly forget that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 22 years old and probably was the world’s best player as a 1970 rookie.

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Wembanyama won’t be that. But he will something special, likely ahead of Holmgren on the progression scale, and Holmgren didn’t even get the headstart afforded him by birth.

Give Holmgren last season as his rookie year, and he would be more acclimated to the league. More of his own man as a unique NBA player. Instead, Holmgren seems destined to be Wembanyama 1.0.

All of which means Holmgren is doomed to career-long comparisons. Sort of the way Carmelo Anthony had the misfortune of being in the same rookie class as LeBron James.

Carmelo was a wonderful NBA player. A superstar in every regard. He didn’t win big, in part because not everyone can win big. But Carmelo’s now-ended career falls well short of LeBron’s.

Bummer for Carmelo. And bummer for Holmgren, even if he turns into the kind of unicorn for which Sam Presti hopes but Wembanyama is the generational giant most predict.

That’s where we come in, Thunder fans and media. It’s incumbent on us to give the long, tall Gonzagian a break.

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Let’s not constantly compare Holmgren to Wembanyama. Some comparison is only natural, especially in their head-to-head meetings (get your tickets now). But daily/weekly/monthly analysis of the star stringbeans? No.

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San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama shoots the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at Thomas & Mack Center on July 7.

San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama shoots the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half at Thomas & Mack Center on July 7.

Don’t do it. The Spurs won the lottery and were blessed with Wembanyama. The Thunder rose to No. 2 in the 2022 lottery and were blessed with Holmgren, who was (and remains) exactly what OKC needs. A rim-protector and potential-floor spacer who seems to fit in perfectly with the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Josh Giddey/Jalen Williams core.

The Thunder does not need Holmgren to be Wembanyama. The Thunder needs Holmgren to be the best Holmgren he can be.

Focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do have is losing strategy. If Wembanyama is the runaway rookie of the year — which barring injury he very likely will be — it matters not to the Thunder fortunes. If Holmgren makes opponents think thrice about driving the lane, if he consistently makes outside shots, if he grabs rebounds the way I grab Chili Cheese Fritos in the snack aisle at Crest, who cares what the French Resistance is doing in San Antonio?

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Heck, if you can’t live without comparisons, go to the teams.

The Thunder is winning the rebuild race with the Spurs. The Thunder made the playoffs more recently (2020) than did San Antone, went into tank mode and came out more quickly than did the Spurs, with SGA, Giddey, Santa Clara, Holmgren and the gang.

San Antonio lucked into Wembanyama — yes, lucked, surely the Spurs admit it — but clearly is chasing OKC in the race for Western Conference relevance.

You want to focus on a constant comparison, do so on the franchises, not the giants who are more like each other than any other NBA players, but who still almost surely will be vastly different in NBA superstardom.

Cut Chet Holmgren a break. Compare him to Chet Holmgren.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected]. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OKC Thunder: Don’t compare Chet Holmgren with Victor Wembanyama

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