Chet Holmgren’s Summer League debut put all of his incredible talents on full display, as the No. 2 overall pick dominated on both ends of the court in his first pro game, earning high praise from none other than Kevin Durant in the process.
On Wednesday afternoon in Salt Lake City, Holmgren was on the floor once again, but this time he faced a unique challenge from the Grizzlies, who trotted out Kenneth Lofton Jr., who they signed to a two-way after the Louisiana Tech star went undrafted. Lofton and Holmgren played together on the U19 Team USA squad that won the World Cup in 2021, and it appeared that Lofton remembered a thing or two about how to bother Holmgren from those practices.
At 6’7, 280, Lofton was giving up six inches to Holmgren, but had a sizable weight advantage and he put that to good use, moving Chet wherever he wanted to in the post with that low center of gravity, carving out space to finish at the rim despite the long arms of Holmgren.
Lofton wasn’t just using straight bully ball to do work against Holmgren, as he also showed off his terrific footwork, a quick first step, and a hot hand from deep on Wednesday night, as the full repertoire was on display as he went off for 19 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
A Lofton Jr. lefty hook ends the 1st half!
Catch the 2nd half on ESPN2 🔜 pic.twitter.com/kytXZwZdRJ
— NBA (@NBA) July 6, 2022
Kenneth Lofton Jr. had to dap up Ja after this one 🔥 pic.twitter.com/RDom6Fdv8o
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 7, 2022
For Holmgren doubters, Lofton’s ability to get where he wanted in the post provides some confirmation bias on how Holmgren might struggle against stronger bigs that get into his body on that end in the NBA. But while Chet wasn’t able to get as hot as Tuesday night, he still put forth a solid 11-point, 11-rebound, two-block effort, as he showed that, even when guys try to bully ball him, he’ll come back and attack them too.
🚫 Chet with the 2 handed rejection! 🚫
He's got a double-double on ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/LpQ9mFPFln
— NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2022
The initial reaction to Holmgren’s debut was to rightfully be wowed at his immense talents, because when he’s hot from deep he’s unstoppable offensively. He also can pile up the blocks, and isn’t deterred by guys going at him physically, as any though he’s soft is quickly dispelled by watching him. However, a big, strong guy who is decisive and assertive can get buckets on him, as Lofton showed, and there will be nights like this for Holmgren. The good news is he still was a positive impact on the Thunder while out there, but every time this happens, given all the talk about his frame, it’ll create some buzz.
For me, though, this is more about Lofton showing that he’s got legit NBA skills. The big fella certainly isn’t all the way there as an NBA player, but he has a ton of offensive skill and is an intriguing player. I also am holding out hope that as we get more long, skilled bigs in the league (like Chet and Victor Wembanyama), one potential counter is the sturdier, skilled post player who can use a low-center of gravity to offset the length of the opposition. We’ll see if that becomes an actual trend, but for one night in Salt Lake, bully ball made a return to glory.