Wednesday, February 1 2023

By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer

The Chet Holmgren era will have to wait.

Holmgren, the most debated prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft class, will be on the shelf for the entirety of what was supposed to be his rookie year because of a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, the Thunder announced Thursday morning.

The setback is exactly what NBA general managers and talent evaluators feared about Holmgren, whose 7-foot, 195-pound frame was a point of concern for some leading up to the draft. The pick, made by Thunder general manager Sam Presti, was viewed as high-risk, high-reward.

The nature of the injury was odd, happening during an exhibition event — Jamal Crawford’s “CrawsOver Pro-Am” in Seattle. But perhaps the bigger concern for the Thunder is the long, checkered history behind big men who suffer lower-body injuries.

In some ways, Holmgren’s current situation is reminiscent of 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden. Oden was surrounded by extraordinary expectations out of Ohio State after a monster college career, but ended up missing his rookie season with a knee injury and in the two following seasons he only appeared in a combined 82 games.

While Oden’s body type is opposite of Holmgren’s, he inevitably dealt with too many injury issues to overcome. After a brief comeback attempt with Miami at the edge of 26, Oden was out of the league for good. 

Unfortunately, Oden’s far from the only player whose injuries prevented them from seeing their full potential. Just look at 2002 No. 1 draft pick Yao Ming.

Of course, when Ming was on the floor, he was an All-Star center — his No. 11 is retired by the Houston Rockets for a reason. But in just eight seasons, Ming missed 180 games. From the osteomyelitis in his left big toe in 2005, to breaking the same foot in 2006, to a stress fracture in his left ankle in 2010, the injuries just kept mounting for the Chinese superstar.

Sure, the Thunder would be delighted with Holmgren being named an All-Star eight times like Ming, but the amount of injuries that Ming went through prevented him from being the legendary superstar that he could have been, and perhaps kept Houston from winning a championship.

Another injury-plagued example comes from 1984 No. 2 overall draft pick Sam Bowie, who was selected by the Trail Blazers (over Michael Jordan, famously) to be their next franchise center after Bill Walton, whose first two seasons in Portland were decimated by chronic foot injuries. Notice a trend? Poor Portland.

Bowie, the 7-foot-1 Kentucky superstar whose No. 31 was retired by the Wildcats in 2002, actually dealt with injuries before he even made the pro transition. Following an All-American sophomore season in Lexington, Bowie’s was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia. That led to a domino effect of injuries, including an additional fracture that caused the big man to miss two consecutive seasons of college basketball.

In his comeback campaign and final year of college, Bowie helped power the Wildcats to the 1984 Final Four with an AP All-American Second Team season but playing just three seasons in five years of college basketball led some evaluators to be skeptical.

Bowie made it through his rookie season unscathed, being named an All-NBA Rookie Team selection after averaging 10.0 points to go along with 8.6 boards. But just when it looked as if he could launch himself into being an All-Star in Year 2, Bowie’s tibia nightmare reoccurred.

In 1985, he broke his left tibia. Five games into what was supposed to be his comeback campaign in 1986, he suffered a season-ending fracture to his right tibia. While he averaged 10.9 points and 7.5 boards per game in his 11 NBA seasons, he was never able to live up to being that No. 2 pick.

There’s hope for Holmgren, though. More recent top NBA draft picks have overcome health setbacks early in their career and shined in their later years.

Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, was named NBA Rookie of the Year for the 2010-11 campaign after missing his rookie season with a knee injury, and he’s been named an All-Star six times in his career. There’s also NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid, who suffered through two straight seasons plagued by injury before launching what has been an outstanding career, featuring five straight All-Star selections. 

And undrafted Udonis Haslem, who had the same injury (Lisfranc) as Holmgren back in 2010, has enjoyed a long career since, agreeing just last week to play his 20th season with the Heat.

There are plenty of examples of early career injuries throughout NBA history to choose from, both good and bad. But because there were already questions about Holmgren’s unusual frame being able to handle the wear and tear of the NBA, this injury has just rekindled that debate.

The good news is that Holmgreen has not had a significant injury before. In fact, his last setback came when he broke his wrist in the sixth grade.

But if NBA history is a guide, it’s that what Holmgren ends up becoming in the NBA carries a high amount of variance. For Holmgren and the Thunder, along with the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait and see.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.


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