Chet Holmgren is having an impressive rookie season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Los Angeles Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal is pushing back against the idea that the young player has earned the right to be called “phenomenal.”
In a conversation on his podcast with former Miami Heat teammate Udonis Haslem and host Adam Lefkoe, O’Neal forcefully objected to the adjectives being used to describe Holmgren just 29 games into his NBA career.
“Y’all throwin’ around words that we had to work hard for,” O’Neal said at the 38:30 mark. “Phenomenal’s not the right word. … He’s good, but don’t be going promising and great and future Hall of Famer.
“Startin’ today, I’m puttin’ an end to all that s—. I am, startin’ today. Y’all can’t just be giving these people things who ain’t put in no work.
“… Phenomenal is the wrong word. And you can’t use dominant unless he does it for a consistent amount of time. I’m not talkin’ two or three games. I’m talkin’ years.”
Holmgren is averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game to begin his rookie campaign. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft sat out all of last season with a foot injury.
The 21-year-old has helped the Thunder to a somewhat surprising 20-9 record that has them currently holding the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference entering play Friday. The Lakers are 17-15 and hold the No. 8 position with a game against the conference-leading Minnesota Timberwolves on deck Saturday.
By way of comparison to Holmgren, when O’Neal was a rookie in the 1992-93 NBA season with the Orlando Magic, he averaged 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in 81 appearances. He eventually helped the Magic reach the 1995 NBA Finals in his third season after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft.
One of the best and most dominant big men to ever play the game, O’Neal won three NBA championships with the Lakers and another with Haslem and the Heat. The 51-year-old is a member of the basketball Hall of Fame and issues many strong opinions on the league as a part of “Inside the NBA” on TNT.
The Thunder are one of the better young teams in the league and could prove to be a formidable challenge to the Lakers for the remainder of the campaign and possibly in the playoffs. The teams have split two meetings so far this season, with Holmgren averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in the two contests. They next play again on Jan. 15 in Los Angeles.
Holmgren will continue to try to enhance his candidacy for NBA Rookie of the Year and perhaps earn some flattering adjectives from O’Neal in the future.