Chet Holmgren was watching film and eating breakfast when his head coach, Mark Daigneault, dropped by with a question. It was January 18, and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s schedule had been hellish since Christmas—they’d had four back-to-backs and never more than a day off between games. That morning, they were preparing to play at Utah, their third in a row on the road.

Holmgren was feeling it. “Our schedule was fucked up,” he recalled. “It was beating my ass.”

But after missing what was supposed to be his rookie year with a Lisfranc injury, Holmgren had at that point started every single game for the surging Thunder, and he had no plans to stop. So when Daigneault asked if he wanted to take a night off, Holmgren didn’t hesitate: No.

That night against the Jazz, Holmgren put up 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks in 32 minutes in a narrow win. Two nights later, he put up another 15 points in 33 minutes in another win on the final leg of that long road trip, against Minnesota. And he has kept going like that—the world’s tallest, thinnest Energizer Bunny—not only starting every game, but playing 30-plus minutes per night and averaging 16.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.4 blocks. And he’s started every game since.

For Holmgren, starting every game isn’t just about winning the Rookie of the Year race between him and fellow seven-foot sensation Victor Wembanyama. (Because Holmgren missed his rookie season, he’s eligible for the award this year.) It hasn’t even been all about keeping the Thunder in the first-place race in the Western Conference, either. When he blinks back a black eye or walks off a thigh contusion, he’s proving a more personal point.

“I’ve been hearing it my whole life: ‘He’s not gonna be able to hold up. He’s too skinny,’” Holmgren told me on the phone in late March. “Then last year happens, and it’s like, ‘Ah, fuck, I gotta hear it 10 times as much for this whole year.’”

“If there’s a game where health-wise it’s not smart to play, yes, I’ll put my health in front of my ego,” he continued. “But if I can go out there and play, I’m gonna go out there and play. If you give me the option to play, I’m gonna play.”

After four years of first-round exits from the playoffs during the Billy Donovan-Russell Westbrook era and three years of mediocrity during this recent rebuild, the Thunder are in a dead heat with the defending champions in the West. And they seem set up to contend for that crown beyond just this season. This team looks ready to rival the run of the original Big 3—Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant—in OKC. Or even, potentially, to surpass them, by finally hanging a championship banner.

Holmgren’s play this season isn’t the only reason that the Thunder have gone from a sub-.500 squad to a genuine Finals contender. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has ascended into a bonafide MVP candidate, Jalen Williams has gone from All-Rookie to borderline All-Star, and 2023 first-round pick Carson Wallace has infused 20 solid minutes off the bench each night. But those changes were incremental. Holmgren has helped key a metamorphosis.

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