The Oklahoma City Thunder came into the 2023-24 NBA season with high expectations, but even inside of the Thunder organization, becoming the youngest team to ever secure the #1 seed in the NBA Playoffs must've seemed like a bigger step forward than they were anticipating. However, even in the loaded Western Conference, the Thunder enjoyed one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history, and enter the NBA Playoffs atop the Western Conference.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will (and should) get the majority of the credit. His rise into the conversation for MVP has been the primary catalyst for the Thunder going from frisky to fantastic. Mark Daigneault will (and should) win Coach of the Year. Jalen Williams is becoming a star in his own right, and he may win Most Improved Player of the Year because of it. And then there's Chet Holmgren, the Thunder's rookie center who after missing all of what should've been his rookie year during the 2022-23 season came back healthy and gave the Thunder 82 games of excellent basketball this year.

But before Chet Holmgren was starting at center for a bonafide NBA title contender, he was just a kid fresh out of Gonzaga who was getting thrown into pick-up games with Joel Embiid, the veteran center who has a PhD in Big Man Studies. In the latest episode of The Boardroom, Holmgren detailed an offseason pick-up game ahead of what was supposed to be his rookie season in the NBA in which he got an authoritative welcome to the league from Dr. Embiid.

“I was out hooping in LA to work out with Jrue (Holiday) and he works out with Joel too and we're playing pickup. He comes in the gym right before we're starting, he's like this kids probably not that good so he's kind of bulls—tting and then first game I had like a turnaround to win the game. And then Jrue went up to him, he's like basically talking, Jrue's thing is he's talking to you like 24/7 so he's talking s–t to Joel and I wasn't talking to him I knew better.”

Smart move by Chet. Wise beyond his years. But that damn Jrue Holiday had to go ahead and wake Embiid up, and Chet was the one who paid for it.

“And he (Embiid) was like okay I'm going to turn it on and then like his skill and physical ability, and you know, I think he's probably at the peak of both, especially when it comes to just like one-on-one basketball. And he turned it into a one-on-one game. We're playing pickup, and he's like ‘you're not allowed to double,' and he put eight people on the other side of the court and we play one-on-one. Not a whole lot you can do in that scenario. You know fade aways, bumps, he's got all the foot work too. So that's kind of where I like realized this is where the bar is. You know this is what you got to compete with every night in the NBA, and I think that was huge for me having that experience before I got hurt, kind of figuring out where I needed to get myself to.”

Not a bad guy to measure yourself against. Embiid would go on to win the 2022-23 MVP Award, and had he not suffered a lateral meniscus injury that cost him nearly a third of the season this year, it's very possible Embiid was well on his way to winning the MVP for the second-consecutive year.

For Chet, at least he can take some comfort in knowing that Embiid's fired up performance wasn't necessarily personal. Against Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs, Embiid made another statement this year, serving up the Next Big Thing with a 70-point performance that came only a week before his meniscus injury.