Skip Bayless Foolishly Invokes Larry Bird While Hyping Teenage Basketball Star

Skip Bayless managed to outdo himself with one of his most recent declarations. That’s a significant accomplishment for a man who has made a multimillion fortune for being outlandish. Falling into the same abyss many analysts find themselves trapped, Bayless believed there was only one way to talk about 19-year-old basketball phenom Chet Holmgren, a kid who is one of the top prospects for the 2022 NBA draft.

Holmgren, who committed to play next season at Gonzaga, recently helped USA Basketball capture a gold medal at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Latvia. There is no doubt the Minnesota native has an extremely high ceiling as a player.

Indeed, a high enough ceiling so that Skip Bayless didn’t need to resort to ridiculous hyperbole to tout the young star.

Chet Holmgren could go No. 1 in the 2022 NBA draft

At 7-foot-1, Chet Holmgren is the very model of the modern NBA big man to kick it old school and borrow from The Pirates of Penzance. The first thought is he’s a center, but that would be a mistake. He blocks shots like a center, for sure, but it’s on the offensive end where Holmgren starts to differentiate himself.

For starters, he has radar range as a shooter. He’s already got the shooting touch from 3-point range, and he showed that off in Latvia. In seven games at the U19 World Cup, Holmgren was a sizzling 7-of-13 from deep while shooting 62% overall. He also showed passing skills, averaging 3.3 assists in 21.3 minutes per game. Defensively, start with the 2.7 blocks a game and work from there. Not shockingly, Holmgren was the tournament MVP.

Even if it’s just for a single season, Gonzaga is getting a good one in Chet Holmgren. Skip Bayless certainly is not wrong about that. But it’s in his extraordinarily lazy comparison where Bayless runs off the rails.

Skip Bayless missed the mark entirely for more than one reason

Chet Holmgren Skip Bayless
Chet Holmgren (L) might be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. But Skip Bayless (R) never should have invoked Larry Bird as a possible comparison for the slim 19-year-old. Courtesy FIBA | Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

Skip Bayless, like many other observers, is excited about the potential of Chet Holmgren. But in his haste to hype the kid, because again, Bayless makes his living making ridiculous over-statements, he went across a line.

According to the Crossed Sports Instagram account, Bayless set the bar extraordinarily high for Holmgren.

“This will be the best White American player since Larry Bird. Seven-foot-one, moves like a guard, jumps out of the gym, can shoot pull-up 3s, but also dominate the paint blocking shots.”

Skip Bayless

All of that about Holmgren’s skills is true, and none of it is reminiscent of all-time great Larry Bird.

The most obvious difference is size; Bird was a solidly built 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds. Holmgren is 7-foot-1 but weighs just 190 pounds and needs to add strength before coming to the NBA.

More important than that, though, is the idea we’re ranking White American players. Are we still that tied to the notion that basketball somehow needs its great White hope? Is that where we are in 2021? If it is, that’s discouraging at best.

Besides, Chet Holmgren has an adequate comparison in today’s NBA.

Who does Chet Holmgren resemble?

Chet Holmgren’s game does remind talent evaluators of an all-time great NBA player. But it’s one from this century, not 40 years ago.

Kevin Durant was listed at 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds in his single season at the University of Texas. One of those measurements was on the small side. The other was quite generous. Now Durant is listed at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds. Giannis Antetokounmpo, for instance, is 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds. Side-by-side, Durant is both slightly taller and much thinner than Antetokounmpo.

But in terms of playing style, Holmgren resembles Durant. His shooting range begins when he gets off the bus, he’s got handles, you can run the offense through him, and he can protect the rim.

For his career, Durant is a 38.4% shooter from 3-point range and has topped 40% five times, including a career-high 45% in 2020–21. He also averaged 4.2 assists per game over his 13 seasons and has bettered five a night in four of his last five seasons. Durant completes the package with 1.1 blocks per game, with a career-best of 1.8 back in 2017–18. In his first season back from a torn Achilles’ tendon, he averaged 1.3.

If Todd Holmgren can resemble the player he most readily compares to, he’s going to have a great career. The problem for Skip Bayless is that the player isn’t Larry Bird, nor should it be. To say otherwise is both lazy and hyperbolic.

Statistics courtesy of FIBA and Basketball Reference.

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