The OKC Thunder entered week 5 of NBA action with a fair amount of buzz surrounding the team. A strong week could help OKC leap in both the standings and the power rankings of national media outlets.
The OKC Thunder answered the call, taking care of the Warriors in consecutive games and routing the Portland Trail Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back.
When given context, these games demonstrate the type of team the OKC Thunder are now and will be for years to come. Saturday night’s matchup with the Warriors highlighted the team’s grit and determination, which they have possessed through most of the rebuild.
Trailing by 18 points almost halfway through the 3rd quarter, the OKC Thunder furiously batted back and forced overtime thanks to the heroics of Chet Holmgren. From there, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander proved why he is a superstar player in this league, scoring 10 of OKC’s 13 overtime points.
The OKC Thunder announce their arrival in Week Five NBA Power Rankings following an impressive road trip.
Sunday’s showdown in Portland posed an entirely different challenge. It was the second night of a back-to-back on the road, looking forward to flying home, playing a young and banged-up Trail Blazers squad.
You can see how the league’s second youngest team might overlook this game, especially riding the high of the win the previous night. No chance. The Thunder looked poised as ever and dominated the contest from start to finish.
Performances like these stacked on top of each other see the Thunder climbing the charts in the national media’s eyes.
Their strong play on the court is reflected in the positive discourse surrounding this team more and more frequently. Let’s look at where national media outlets view the Thunder’s standing through five weeks of basketball.
ESPN Power Rankings:
After barely scratching the top 10 last week, the Thunder found themselves firmly in at #6 in this week’s ESPN power rankings.
The five teams ranked ahead of Oklahoma City are all legit title contenders, so the Thunder are in a favorable spot a month into the season.
What you’ll find as a throughline between all these power rankings is the highlighting of OKC’s incredible efficiency, either individually, collectively, or both.
Tim MacMahon of ESPN shouts out the Thunder’s two rookies and notes how historical their efficiency has been so far into their freshman seasons in the Association.
"A pair of Thunder rookies are on pace for 50/40/90 shooting splits, a feat never accomplished by a first-year player who logged at least 60 minutes in a season. Chet Holmgren, a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, is averaging 17 points per game, shooting 56.5% from the floor, 46.0% from 3-point range, and 90.7% on the line. Cason Wallace, the No. 10 overall pick, is averaging 7.3 points off the bench while shooting 62.5% from the floor, 54.2% from 3, and 9-of-9 from the line."
Oklahoma City hopes their rookies can sustain this efficiency level as their shot attempts per game will slowly but surely rise throughout the season. You can see how the rest of the league shakes out in ESPN’s list here.
NBA.com Power Rankings:
The Thunder stormed to the top five of John Schuhmann’s NBA.com power rankings. Being ranked the 5th best team in the league, even this early into the season, is something that Thunder fans surely shouldn’t take for granted.
A few blowout wins in the past handful of games have certainly helped, but the Thunder now have the league’s 2nd highest net rating at +8.5. Their offensive rating is 8th (116.9), and their defensive rating is 4th (108.4), making them and the Celtics the only two teams to rank in the top 8 in both.
Schuhmann highlights the Thunder’s superb efficiency and credits their strong performances in the past week to their ability to knock down shots both individually and collectively at a high rate.
"In between those blowouts were two wins over the Warriors, over which the Thunder shot 21-for-36 (58%) from mid-range and 27-for-55 (49%) from 3-point range. Isaiah Joe was 7-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first game, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put on an iso clinic down the stretch of the second one.Chet Holmgren also scored a career-high 36 points on Saturday and has now shot 62% inside the arc, 46% from 3-point range and 91% from the line. His true shooting percentage of 69.7% is the highest among 138 players with at least 100 field goal attempts."
Shooting numbers will fluctuate as a result of a long and grueling season, but the Thunder’s shot diet suggests that their high-level shooting is sustainable.
The OKC Thunder rarely settle for bad looks and almost always pass up a good shot for a great shot and the right one. Having the best driver in the league in Gilgeous-Alexander, plus shooters up and down the roster, only helps the Thunder in the efficiency category.
The entirety of Schuhmann’s thoughts on the Thunder and the rest of the Association can be found here.
CBS Sports Power Rankings:
Collin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports conducts his power rankings based on weekly performance only. Teams are ranked based on their games played from Tuesday of the prior week to Monday of the present week, not the whole season.
The Thunder’s unblemished week catapulted them up eight spots from last week and landed them at #2 in this week’s CBS Sports NBA Power Rankings.
The only team deemed to have a better week than the Thunder was the Milwaukee Bucks, who also went undefeated in the week.
The offenses for both Milwaukee and Oklahoma City are what Ward-Henninger cites as the key contributor to their strong weeks.
For the OKC Thunder specifically, the offense found its groove against the rebuilding Spurs and carried that momentum to the West Coast, where they shot the ball at an extremely high level.
Strong shooting numbers will make any offense look good to the naked eye. But as Ward-Henninger notes, the Thunder’s potent offense appeals to the analytical side of the sport just as well.
"What a week for the Thunder, whose winning streak now sits at five, following wins this week over the Spurs and Blazers and two against the Warriors. The offense has been ridiculous, averaging 125 points per 100 possessions this week, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to lead the way."
Ward-Henninger’s thoughts on the rest of the league over the past week can be found here.
After a perfect week in the record department, Oklahoma City is riding high in the eyes of the national media, as reflected in these power rankings.
The OKC Thunder have done a great job of taking care of business early in the season. In a Western Conference where “off nights” are few and far between, every win matters for teams aspiring to make the playoffs.
A Thanksgiving Eve matchup in Paycom Center against the seemingly lifeless Chicago Bulls is as easy as it will get for OKC over the next few weeks.
After that, the OKC Thunder will see a tough stretch of games, providing them with context moving forward. Seeing how you stack up against the league’s best is significant for a young team.
On Saturday night, the Thunder will welcome reigning MVP Joel Embiid and the reinvigorated 76ers into town in what will be an excellent test for the second-youngest team in the Association. OKC will head to Minnesota on Tuesday to wrap up their In-Season Tournament pool play games against the top-seeded Timberwolves.
After what was perceived by many to be a brutal six-game stretch, the Thunder came out the other end with a 5-1 record. Even beyond the impressive record, Oklahoma City showed tremendous poise and maturity that a team this young typically doesn’t possess.
The Thunder’s strong outings this past week serve as a statement to the rest of the league: they have arrived and are here to stay.