One day after Shams Charania reported, in typically miasmatic language, that No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren would be “undergoing further opinions” after tweaking his foot, those further opinions have arrived at a grim diagnosis: Holmgren has a Lisfranc injury in his right foot. He’ll miss the entirety of his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Holmgren had spent his summer playing in various pro-ams around the country, racking up numbers against day-trippers and regularly playing alongside top pick Paolo Banchero. The first two picks were teammates once again at this past weekend’s star-studded CrawsOver event in Seattle, suiting up against a bunch of NBA stars like LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, and Banchero’s sworn enemy, Dejounte Murray. In the very first minute of the game, Holmgren defended James on a fast break. While he prevented him from scoring, he also came up limping and had to promptly leave the game, neatly showcasing both the promise and potential downside of a guy shaped like an Italian cypress.
The Lisfranc joint is the hinge in the middle of your foot where the bones of your arch connect with the tarsa, the long bones between the toes and the ankle. A Lisfranc injury can refer to damage to either ligaments or bones, and it’s one of the worst possible injuries a player can suffer, since the region in question bears so much weight. You have to keep all weight off the injured foot for months and you are at a pretty high risk of developing arthritis even if the surgery goes well and everything is set correctly. Few NBA players have suffered Lisfranc injuries as serious as Holmgren’s appears to be, though many NFL players have had their careers cut short or otherwise derailed. Some, like Le’Veon Bell and Brian Westbrook, put up career numbers after suffering the injury, though the severity of the injury can vary. Panthers rookie quarterback Matt Corral also just suffered a Lisfranc injury.
While players have tended to recover from ACL tears faster and more fully than they did a decade ago, foot injuries remain as concerning as ever, especially for big men. Joel Embiid, who is famously much heavier than Holmgren, missed two whole seasons before eventually rounding into an annual MVP candidate. Yao Ming, Greg Oden, and Bill Walton all had their careers ended by foot injuries, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas broke his navicular bone and was pretty much fine. Perhaps the closest analog to Holmgren’s body type is Kevin Durant. He suffered a Jones fracture ahead of the 2014-15 season, broke a different bone in the middle of the season, yet won his two Finals MVPs a few years later. Like Holmgren, Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons also missed their entire rookie seasons, though they didn’t have foot issues.
The Thunder have a combined 14 feet and three inches worth of incentive to not rush Holmgren back, so even if his injury is relatively mild on the spectrum of Lisfranc issues, they will happily lose as many games as possible this season while Holmgren rests. Oklahoma City were always going to have to be patient with Holmgren anyway, though he’s now a year away from being two years away. Also, the cadre of rookies and teenagers he Thunder have assembled around Holmgren won’t get to play with him until the Fall of 2023 at the earliest, which is not ideal. Thunder fans can at least spend this season envisioning the arachnoid specter of a Victor Wembanyama-Chet Holmgren frontcourt.