Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft this past June, will miss the entire 2022-23 season with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot, the team announced on Thursday.
The injury requires surgery in the coming weeks, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said on a Zoom call.
"Certainly, we are disappointed for Chet, especially given the excitement he had about getting on the floor with his teammates this season," Presti added in a statement. "We know Chet has a long career ahead of him within our organization and the Oklahoma City community. One of the things that most impressed us during the process of selecting Chet was his determination and focus. We expect that same tenacity will carry him through this period of time as we work together and support him during his rehabilitation."
The injury occurred two minutes into a pro-am game at Seattle Pacific University on Saturday. Holmgren landed awkwardly attempting to defend Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James in transition. The 7-foot, 190-pound Gonzaga product limped to mid-court before exiting the game. Former NBA player Jamal Crawford, who hosted the exhibition, canceled the game before halftime due to slippery floor conditions.
"I had to make the decision to stop the game to protect the players," he said. "Tough, but right decision."
Here's the play where Chet Holmgren got hurt tonight. He was guarding @KingJames one-on-one. It's hard to tell how he got hurt. He might have just stepped weirdly. @ChetHolmgren @thecrawsover #thunder pic.twitter.com/AzUBYUgnyV
— Nathan Thompson (@NathanDThompson) August 21, 2022
Presti does not believe condensation on the court or Holmgren's thin frame were factors in the injury.
"It's a figment of the alternate reality that is the internet," said Presti, who described it as an "impact" injury. "That's not where reality resides. There are opinions, and there are facts, and we're dealing with the facts. The facts are ... the acute injury, the fact that it's extremely rare and the mechanism in how it happened."
Presti did suggest that the NBA's sanctioning of pro-am participation does increase the likelihood for injury.
"The NBA is making that determination that this is an OK thing to do, and players are going to play in these because the NBA is saying they're OK to play in," Presti added on Thursday's conference call. "Guys are playing all over the place all the time everywhere. If you have guys who love to play, they're going to play basketball. Every time you step on a basketball court, something like this could happen. It could happen in a game, it could happen in a practice, it could happen in a scrimmage. Chet was playing with [Joel] Embiid and [Jayson] Tatum and a bunch of other guys a few days before he went up there. It's just part of it."
Lisfranc injuries are more common in the NFL, where impact on the joint occurs more frequently. A 2015 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine revealed that the median recovery period for NFL players who suffered Lisfranc injuries lasted roughly 11 months, and "analysis of pre- and post-injury athletic performance revealed no statistically significant changes after return to sport after Lisfranc injury."
"Short-term setback for him and short-term setback for us. There are a lot of NBA players that have not had this exact injury but have had injuries their rookie season," Presti said on the conference call, citing Embiid, Ben Simmons and Blake Griffin as examples of high draft picks who acclimated to the NBA during yearlong injury absences and leveraged that experience to better succeed in their delayed rookie seasons.
Nick Collison, a longtime Thunder player turned special assistant to the team, also missed his first season to injury and "I think is going to be really helpful through this process for us and for Chet," Presti added.
Holmgren averaged 14 points (on 48/42/94 shooting splits), 8.4 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals in 26.2 minutes over five summer league games for the Thunder in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
The injury gives the Thunder, who have won 46 games over the past two seasons, another excuse to tank. They were hopeful the young core of Holmgren, Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, among others, could be more competitive this season, but this injury makes a long-shot playoff bid even more difficult. This raises questions about whether the Thunder will consider another late-season shutdown of Gilgeous-Alexander and others in pursuit of better lottery odds, as they have done each of the last two seasons.
"The amount of progress we've made in the offseason relative to the players who we've added, the improvement of a lot of our existing players, some of the things we learned last year, we're coming into the season an improved team," said Presti. "My hope is that we'll be able to say that for the foreseeable future, based on the way we've repositioned the team. If we can take some steps forward this year in areas that I think can be sustainable, not just optical, then you can add Chet Holmgren to that team. ...
"I don't know how this season will go, and if anyone thinks they do, they're probably not right, so we have to see how it unfolds, and we've done that every year. Some years we've been surprised, and some years we've been disappointed, but that's the beauty of sports."
Sports giveth, and sports taketh. Holmgren learned the hard way in Seattle.
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