Chet Holmgren didn’t look like someone who’d been away from the game for nearly a full year when the former Gonzaga big man returned to live action Monday night for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It had been 355 days since Holmgren last played in the NBA Summer League, missing the entirety of his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury suffered at the Crawsover Pro-Am in Seattle last August. But the second pick of the 2022 NBA draft looked mostly comfortable during Oklahoma City’s 95-85 win over the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.
Holmgren scored 15 points, connecting on 6 of 14 shots from the field and 3 of 6 from the free-throw line, and just missed out on a double-double, pulling down nine rebounds to go with four blocks, four fouls, three turnovers and two assists.
“My teammates kept telling me, let the game come to me and I wanted to come out and be aggressive and I feel like I did that,” Holmgren told NBATV’s Holly Rowe in a postgame interview. “Once the game came to me and I let it come to me, things started to open up and we opened up a lead as a team.”
Holmgren’s rehabilitation from the foot injury that sidelined him for more than 11 months went as scheduled and Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti was optimistic about the 7-footer’s chances of returning to the Thunder for Summer League games in Salt Lake City and later this week in Las Vegas.
The Thunder didn’t place Holmgren under a minutes restriction and he logged 29 minutes in his 2023 Summer League debut, finishing with the team’s second-best plus-minus, a plus-13.
“It must feel so good to him,” Rowe said during the broadcast. “That Lisfranc fracture is a tricky one with your foot and for him to come back and move like he moved today, I feel good about that.”
Holmgren didn’t get his first shot to fall until the 9-minute, 31-second mark of the second quarter, grabbing his own rebound before going back up and scoring a putback over 6-foot-10 Luke Samanic.
The former Zag star’s much-anticipated return came with a little of everything. Later on in the game, he met former Baylor guard and 16th overall draft pick Keyonte George at the rim, swatting the Utah player’s layup with both hands.
As he’s done dating back to his lone season at Gonzaga, Holmgren invited OKC teammates to join him for a postgame television interview, wrapping his arms around Tre Mann and Jaylin Williams while Jalen Williams stood on the opposite side of Rowe.
All three teammates were asked about having Holmgren back on the court after a long hiatus from the game.
“It’s a blessing,” Jalen Williams said.
“Real good,” Mann added. “Especially down there at the rim when somebody gets past.”
“It was great,” Jaylin Williams said. “It was great sharing the court with him.”
Holmgren and Oklahoma City’s first Summer League stint in Salt Lake continues Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It’s great just to be able to be in an actual game again,” Holmgren told reporters in a postgame press conference. “For the last 11 months, whatever it’s been, it’s really been competing with myself just to stay in it. I feel like I followed everything to a T so this is kind of like the reward for that.
“It’s great to be back out there and make mistakes, learn from it. Make good plays, learn from it. Compete with the dudes, have fun, smile and go hard. That’s what it’s about for me.”
Oklahoma City’s Tanner Groves, a Shadle Park graduate and former Eastern Washington forward, did not play.
During an earlier game at the Salt Lake Summer League, two former Gonzaga teammates matched up against each other when Filip Petrusev and the Philadelphia 76ers faced Joel Ayayi and the Grizzlies.
Petrusev, coming off a league championship run with Crvena Zvezda Meridianbet Belgrade in his home country of Serbia, scored nine points on 2 of 5 shooting while recording six rebounds, two assists and seven fouls in a 94-92 loss. Petrusev started and played 22 minutes.
Ayayi, who was added to Memphis’ Summer League roster last week, totaled two points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.
Former Washington State guard Justin Powell didn’t play in the Miami Heat’s opening game at the California Classic and ex-Eastern Washington standout Angelo Allegri earned a “DNP” for the Charlotte Hornets.