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Sports >  NCAA basketball

NBA scouts dish on Gonzaga duo Chet Holmgren’s and Andrew Nembhard’s games, draft projections

June 18, 2022 Updated Sat., June 18, 2022 at 9:20 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, left, and Andrew Nembhard discuss matters during a road game against Saint Mary’s in February.   (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, left, and Andrew Nembhard discuss matters during a road game against Saint Mary’s in February. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Chet Holmgren has a 7-foot-6 wingspan – one of the many reasons he might be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft – and the multitude of opinions projecting the former Gonzaga star’s basement and ceiling in the league also tends to cover a wide range.

One thing seems likely: The 7-footer has a strong chance of replacing or joining Adam Morrison (No. 3 to Charlotte in 2006) as the school’s highest draft pick. Even Holmgren’s most ardent critics usually list him in the top two or at worst third or fourth.

Another possibility: Guard Andrew Nembhard’s rise in the predraft process gives Gonzaga a chance at having two first-round selections for the third time in four years (Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke in 2019, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert in 2021).

We asked three NBA scouts, obviously under the condition of anonymity, for their opinions on Holmgren and Nembhard. Holmgren, in particular, inspired lavish praise for his unique, guard-like skill set and concern over his slender 195-pound frame.

“I’m not afraid of him as a player,” one scout said. “I think he’s going to be fine and could be exceptional. I just worry about his durability. Someone said to me, ‘Whoever pulls the trigger to draft him better have a long contract.’ But he could be a great player.”

“I would take the more positive approach because of how talented and gifted he is,” another scout said. “I think people are going to have to be very patient with him ultimately because of the body type, but he is very, very special. But there is potential risk. There’s no doubt about that.”

In that sense, Holmgren is no different than Auburn’s Jabari Smith, who appears to be the favorite to go No. 1 to Orlando, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. Media, mock drafts and NBA talent evaluators for months generally have settled on Smith, Holmgren and Banchero in the top three.

“Absolutely,” responded one scout, when asked if Holmgren is a frequent topic in NBA draft-room discussions. “What we go back to is looking at what he can do on the floor more than anything else. He has incredible length, can protect the rim, has ball skills and can shoot from anywhere on the floor. At his size, it’s a combination you don’t see often. He moves around really well, he’s not awkward with his body. The physical can change, we’ve seen it done before.

“You really have to focus on the ability and then have faith in your strength department and nutrition department. That’s why you invest heavily in those areas to help a kid like that.”

Holmgren’s impressive work ethic at Gonzaga was unquestioned, and it’s continued during the predraft process.

He told Stadium’s Shams Charania he’s in the weight room six days a week.

“How many people have the quickness he has at that size?” one scout asked. “You look at his frame and you wonder how much stronger he can get. He’s narrow in the shoulders and hips. He’ll get marginally stronger, everybody does.

“People want to criticize some things about Chet. Even when he didn’t score it well, he rebounded, passed, blocked shots. Those are pretty good traits to have.”

Holmgren averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 3.7 blocks. In West Coast Conference games, he averaged 15.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 3.7 blocks. The 6-10, 220-pound Smith averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks. The 6-10, 250-pound Banchero, a Seattle native, contributed 17.2 points, 7.8 boards, 3.2 assists and 0.9 blocks.

“We know those three are all talented, but everybody has some questions,” one scout said. “No one is a finished product coming in, even if you’re the No. 1 pick. I would say Paolo (is the most NBA ready). Physically, he’s ready and could play tomorrow. There’s a reason he’s in the conversation for the top pick.”

The NBA continues to value mobile bigs capable of operating on offense and defense on the perimeter in more of a positionless style of play.

“One thing that helps Chet is how the game has changed,” one scout pointed out. “That hurts Drew Timme, but it helps Chet.”

Nembhard appears to have made a steady climb up draft boards, helped by a 26-point, 11-assist effort at an NBA draft combine scrimmage. All three scouts agreed he will probably be picked late first round or early second.

“He’s your pure point guard, able to make enough shots and create,” one scout said. “In a world full of combo guards, he knows what he is and has good size and should be a decent enough defender. I would think playoff teams look at him, whether that’s late 20s or early 30s.”

The 6-5, 195-pound point guard averaged career highs in points (11.8), assists (5.8), 3-point percentage (38.3) and free-throw percentage (87.3).

“He knows how to run the pick-and-roll and he’s a very good distributor. He doesn’t have to dribble it to be effective, he can pass it,” one scout said. “I don’t see him as an NBA starter, but I think he could be a good backup.”

“What jumps out to me is his intelligence, IQ and feel and understanding for the game at that position,” another scout offered. “The little things he does, he keeps the defender on his back while he surveys the floor, he’s doing things that a five-, 10-year NBA vet is doing. You know what you’re going to get and that’s just a rock-solid guy at a very important position.”

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