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Chet Holmgren Surpassing Expectations, Silencing Doubters: 'It's Easy To Feel Like An Underdog'

Oklahoma City's rookie is learning how to balance progression and win-now expectations on the best team in the Western Conference.

Chet Holmgren's rookie season has been everything expected and more so far. He has been the defensive anchor the Thunder always envisioned him being and his offensive game has been impressive. On paper, Holmgren seemed like the missing piece for this team, and with less than 20 games left, that hunch has been confirmed.

The big man has had to overcome a lot already, from the physical side to the emotional battle. He's had a loud crowd of doubters since his college days and his frame was a big question during the draft process. The noise only got louder when he was injured before his rookie year even began, and he was sidelined the whole season.

He has used that experience to fuel him, though.

"I have my own internal motivation, but it's easy to feel like an underdog when you're labeled a bust before you even play a game," Holmgren said on the Woj Pod Tuesday morning. "At the same time, I've also been blessed in so many aspects of life where I might not necessarily be an underdog, but I owe it to all the people who helped me get here and put in work alongside me to go out there and be successful."

Holmgren has been anything but a bust this season and his trajectory is sky high. He's averaging 16.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Holmgren is shooting 53.8% from the floor and 38.5% from 3-point range, and that's even after a recent shooting slump.

He has been a two-way difference maker. Over the course of his career, he obviously has a handful of things he wants to improve on. But being able to balance off-season progression and current goals is such an important skill. He's excelling in his role right now, and he's excited to work on his game this summer.

"It's almost painful going through the season and not being able to work on everything you want to work on because you're so focused on being prepared and healthy," Holmgren said. "I'm eager to work on so much more stuff, but at the same time, I also understand where the focus is at this moment in the season. Which is games, getting better, and playoffs coming up."

The reason for staying in the now is simple: Oklahoma City has a chance to contend for a championship. With the talented team around him, the Thunder have a chance to make some noise. Holmgren might be the first person from the organization to admit to "win now mode," but everyone's starting to think it.

"There's an expectation to win every night. We got dudes on our team, from Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander), to Dub (Jalen Williams), (Josh) Giddey, Cason (Wallace) just had a career-high last night, (Aaron) Wiggins, Lu (Dort), like we got dudes all over the roster that can hoop. They do things at a high level too. It's a lot of win-now mode."

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