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Gonzaga Basketball

Checking in on 10 former Gonzaga players before the final stretch of the NBA season

Chet Holmgren of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball during the first game of the Panini Rising Stars at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on February 16, 2024, in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Getty Images)

The occasion of the All-Star break gave 10 former Gonzaga players on NBA rosters a chance to reset as they prepare for the home stretch of the regular season with about two more months until playoff pairings are official.

It also gives us a chance to examine how the first half – more like two-thirds – of the NBA season went for each ex-Zag with more than 50 games in the books.

Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder: Holmgren’s debut NBA season is going about as well as the 7-footer could have hoped. Averaging 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.6 assists, Holmgren recently took part in his first NBA Rising Stars Game and is still considered among two or three favorites to capture NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Holmgren is one of just two NBA players with at least 90 made 3-pointers and 90 blocks this season and his Thunder entered All-Star break with the league’s third-best record. Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama are the only rookies to average 1.5 3-pointers made and 1.5 blocks in NBA history.

Kelly Olynyk, Toronto Raptors: The journeyman forward was traded to the Raptors less than a week before All-Star break, so Olynyk hadn’t quite settled in with his new team, playing three games in a Toronto uniform. In those three, the Toronto native scored 11 points in 22 minutes against Cleveland and 17 points in 21 minutes against San Antonio before failing to get on the score sheet while playing just 7 minutes against Indiana. Olynyk’s chances of getting back to the playoffs looked iffy with Utah and it will be even more challenging with the Raptors, who sit five games behind Atlanta for the final play-in berth.

Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic: Suggs is posting career-high scoring and efficiency numbers in his third NBA season, averaging 12.3 points per game on 44% shooting from the field and 38% from the 3-point line. The guard didn’t play more than 53 games his first two seasons in the league, but should exceed that mark by next week and will have a chance to make his debut in the NBA playoffs. With a 30-25 record, Orlando is in a good position to earn a play-in berth. Both the Magic and Miami Heat are sitting a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for the sixth playoff berth.

Julian Strawther, Denver Nuggets: A right knee contusion has limited Strawther to only two games since Jan. 4. It’s unclear if he will win back his spot on the team’s second unit as the Nuggets continue to push for a high playoff seed in hopes of defending their NBA title. Strawther scored 21 points in his rehab assignment with the G League Grand Rapids Gold before scoring seven points in 20 minutes during his first game back on Feb. 9 against the Sacramento Kings. For the season, Strawther is averaging 5.8 points and 1.5 rebounds. The rookie has scored 20 points on two occasions – most recently while making six 3-pointers on Dec. 11 against the Atlanta Hawks.

Corey Kispert, Washington Wizards: It has been tough sledding for Kispert and the Wizards, who entered the break with the NBA’s second-worst record, at 9-45. After starting in 81 games his first two professional seasons, Kispert has only been in the starting unit once this season, but he’s averaging 12.0 points per game on 9.0 field-goal attempts and 5.6 3-point attempts – all career highs for the former Gonzaga wing. Kispert scored at least 20 points in four of Washington’s seven games before the All-Star break, making six 3-pointers in a 26-point game against the Miami Heat and five more against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings: Many thought Sabonis was snubbed when the NBA revealed its All-Star teams a few weeks ago. Sabonis certainly had a case, entering All-Star break averaging a double-double of 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds to go with 8.3 assists for Sacramento, which sits eighth in the Western Conference standings. Sabonis is leading all NBA players in triple-doubles this season with 18 – three more than Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic – and he’s making a career-high 62.2% of his shots from the field, along with 42% from the 3-point line.

Zach Collins, San Antonio Spurs: It’s been an up-and-down year for the former 10th overall pick, who has started in roughly half of the games for San Antonio, which is rebuilding around rookie phenom Wembanyama. Collins is averaging 11.5 points per game, just off his career-high mark of 11.6 set last year, but has watched his 3-point percentage regress from 37% in 2022-23 to 26% this season. The Spurs sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with an 11-44 record. Collins’ season hit a personal low point two weeks ago when he was ejected from a game after a dust-up with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell.

Rui Hachimura, Los Angeles Lakers: Hachimura entered the All-Star break coming off a career-high 36-point game against the Utah Jazz that saw the fifth-year pro make 6 of 8 shots from behind the arc in a 138-122 victory. The Lakers have won five of six games since Hachimura replaced Taurean Prince in the team’s starting lineup. Los Angeles has outscored its opponents by 128 points when the 6-foot-8 power forward has been on the floor. Hachimura has managed to top 50% from the field (51.5%) for the first time in his career and he’s making 40% of his 3-pointers for just the second time since his rookie season in 2019-20.

Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers: The second-year Pacer escaped Indianapolis’ All-Star festivities to watch younger brother Ryan play at Gonzaga on Saturday. It’s unclear if Nembhard will be back in Indiana’s starting lineup when he and the Pacers return to the court against the Pistons on Thursday, but the point guard made six consecutive starts – and started in 10 of 13 games – before the break, in part because of an injury to All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton. Indiana’s recent acquisition of standout forward Pascal Siakam should help Nembhard and the Pacers make a push for the NBA playoffs. The former GU guard is averaging 9.0 points and 4.6 assists this season.

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies: One report from Andscape’s Marc Spears suggested Clarke, who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury, could make his season debut around the All-Star break. Clarke still hasn’t suited up for Memphis in 2023-24, but he recently posted workout footage from his Instagram account that would suggest he could return in the final 26 games. The Grizzlies, who also spent much of the season without star guard Ja Morant due to a suspension, are firmly out of the playoff picture. A return to the court in any capacity would signify a positive individual step for Clarke, who hasn’t played in a game since March 3.