Power Rankings NBA Week 6: Internal Improvement Driving Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves / David Berding/GettyImages

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the midst of a difficult stretch of games that will ultimately tell us a lot about the team. Beyond wins and losses, how the Thunder handle these games and the lessons they learn from them are equally important. 

The week began with a convincing win over the desperate Chicago Bulls at Paycom Center. The Thunder’s six-game win streak ended with a four-point loss to the reigning MVP Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night, and the week culminated in Minnesota, where the Thunder dropped a close game to the Timberwolves, which they controlled for most of the contest.

Where do the OKC Thunder rank in the week five power rankings ahead of a difficult stretch?

Reiterating the importance of looking beyond wins and losses, a lot can be taken from this week’s matchups. Chet Holmgren is blossoming into a star before our eyes. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s free throw attempts per game are slowly but surely approaching double digits again, and there is still significant room for growth on both sides of the ball.

The national media is less focused on silver linings and lessons and prioritizes wins and losses more than anything. We’ll look at how the Thunder’s week impacted their place in the power rankings of ESPN.com, NBA.com, and CBS Sports.com.

ESPN Power Rankings:

The Thunder held firm at #6 on ESPN's power rankings, the same position they had last week. Despite just a 1-2 week, the Thunder lost by a combined seven points to arguably two of the top five teams in the league. The box scores of these games don't tell the whole story, and you must read between the lines to see the progress being made.

Although cold shooting nights against his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, and Minnesota Timberwolves were uncharacteristic, Isaiah Joe has been lights out all season long from deep for the Thunder. Tim MacMahon of ESPN highlights just how paramount Joe's shooting ability is to this Thunder squad.

"Joe made at least 50% of his 3s in every game of the Thunder's six-game winning streak, highlighted by his 7-of-7 night in a win over the Warriors. Joe shot 75.9% from 3 (22 of 29) during that span. Entering Tuesday night, the Thunder had outscored opponents by 114 points with Joe on the floor, the eighth-best overall plus-minus in the league and by far the best for a bench player."

OKC's hot shooting may not be sustainable all year, but a 17-game sample size is enough to indicate that the Thunder will rank in the upper echelon of the league when it comes to 3-point shooting this season.

The full ESPN power rankings for week six of NBA action can be found here.

NBA.com Power Rankings:

The Thunder stood their ground at #5 in John Schuhmann’s NBA.com Power Rankings. Oklahoma City still ranks top 10 in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, Net Rating, and Pace over a month into the season. The Thunder are 2nd in Net Rating, trailing only the Boston Celtics whom many consider the favorite to win this year’s championship. 

Schuhmann notes that the OKC Thunder are yet to have a rest advantage (more days of rest compared to an opponent) but will have two in the coming week. During this difficult last week of November and essentially the entirety of December, the OKC Thunder will take just about any advantages they can get. 

These extra rest days provide injured players the chance to recover while not missing games. OKC has greatly missed Jalen Williams over the past week while he was dealing with a hip injury. Schuhmann highlights how important Jalen Williams is to the OKC Thunder, specifically when it comes to plugging into the starting 5.

"Jalen Williams has missed the last three games, with Cason Wallace replacing him in the starting lineup. The rookie is still shooting 61% from the field, 14-for-26 (54%) from 3-point range and a perfect 9-for-9 from the line, but the new lineup hasn’t been good. It’s been outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions in its 25 minutes over the three games, even though one of the three was a 43-point win in Portland. "

Schuhmann labeled the OKC Thunder as the “team to watch” this week as their tough stretch of games will tell us a lot about the team. The rest of the NBA.com power rankings for week 6 can be found here.

CBS Sports Power Rankings:

Oklahoma City fell four spots to #6 in CBS Sports weekly NBA Power Rankings. Based solely on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday after, the OKC Thunder only played two games in that stretch. 

OKC’s four-point loss to the 76ers was the first game they had dropped since November 10th. This contest saw the 76ers shoot 19 more free throws than the Thunder, where Joel Embiid himself shot five less than the entire Thunder squad.

A few breaks here and there could have seen the Thunder come out on top, and probably be ranked #1 in this week's CBS Sports Power Rankings. 

While the win against Philadelphia wasn’t meant to be, Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports highlights how good the Thunder’s dynamic duo of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren were during the week. 

"Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 35.5 points and 8.5 assists over the two games, while Chet Holmgren added 25.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game."

Continued excellence from the franchise cornerstones has helped elevate the OKC Thunder to elite status over a month into the season. Developing continuity both on and off the court is essential to the growth of this young core. 

Ward-Henninger’s thoughts on the landscape of the league during the past week can be found here.

The OKC Thunder will see two Western Conference foes in the coming week. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town on Thursday night to wrap up the month of November. Saturday night’s showdown in Dallas between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic will feature two of the best guards in the West (not to mention Kyrie Irving). 

We’ve seen this young OKC Thunder squad defy their projections for the past few seasons now. This season is different as legitimate expectations are being placed on the organization for the first time in over a half-decade. 

So far the OKC Thunder have done a great job of blocking out the noise of outside expectations and focusing on internal improvement on a day-to-day basis, something they have preached since the beginning of the rebuild. 

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