Like clockwork, when training camps throughout the NBA, the refrains you hear are common from year to year.
Players often work out together during the offseason as a way of building camaraderie. They often come back boasting of added skills, whether its ballhandling or improved perimeter shooting. And the most surefire thing that comes up each year, from one media day to the next, is weight—specifically, how much weight did players gain or lose in their summer training?
Pounds have been a key topic down in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder—the NBA’s second-youngest team last year at just under 23 years old on average—are hoping to throw their weight around a bit more in the West while still continuing to develop.
Three of the Thunder’s bigs, Aleksej Pokusevski, Jaylin Williams and Chet Holmgren, the 2022 No. 2 overall pick who missed last season due to injury, all gained 10 pounds or more since last year’s training camp. The extra muscle is noteworthy given that Oklahoma City has perhaps the slightest big-man rotation in the league.
For all of Holmgren’s skills, he entered the league at less than 200 pounds—194 pounds to be exact—despite standing just over 7 feet tall. Pokusevski came in with a similar sub-200 pound build. It likely wasn’t a coincidence that the Thunder were one of the worst defensive-rebounding clubs in the sport last season, and surrendered the most second-chance points (1,272) of any NBA team. (They also were one of the least efficient teams in shutting down post-up looks near the basket.)
While the hyperfocus on pounds at times seems overblown, we’ve seen instances in recent years where physique has seemed to make a difference; particularly for some of the game’s biggest stars. As Giannis Antetokounmpo went from being a skinny kid to a swaggering hulk, he entered a new stratosphere and became a perennial MVP candidate. As Nikola Jokic slimmed down, his endurance improved, allowing him to play more minutes and become a regular triple-double machine even without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who were injured.
Aside from Lu Dort, who has the stoutness of a fire hydrant, the Thunder aren’t the most muscular team. Far from it. They’re led by arguably the league’s most slithery star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who, at just under 200 pounds, is so thin that he almost seems to morph from one part of the floor to the next during his aggressive drives to the basket. Still, OKC is gifted in so many areas, with a number of unusually tall ballhandlers and never-ending limbs that helped the Thunder score a Western Conference-best 20.6 points per game off turnovers.
This isn’t to suggest that extra heft alone would be enough to take Oklahoma City to the next level. Gilgeous-Alexander’s MVP-level play, along with contributions from rookie guard Jalen Williams, forward Josh Giddey and sharpshooter Isaiah Joe, helped the Thunder stun the league by making it to the play-in round last season. And Holmgren’s presence on both ends should provide a lift this season, even with his slender frame.
The road to the postseason this time around won’t be a given for OKC. The West is again solid, with no less than five teams—the defending-champion Nuggets, Lakers, Warriors, Suns and Grizzlies—who should feel they’re capable of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end. But even before the added muscle and weight, the Thunder had shown enough lately to suggest that they won’t merely be pushed aside in the Western Conference playoff race this season.