The Oklahoma City Thunder came into the week fresh off a win versus the NBA-best Boston Celtics. In the two games following probably their best victory of the season, the Thunder came out undeniably flat against both the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.
OKC finally got back into the win column in the Nation's capital against the Washington Wizards on Monday night. Although not the prettiest of wins, the Thunder got back to their identity in many ways, something that was much needed following the two-game skid.
Despite the two bad losses, some of the other top teams in the league have also dropped games in the past week. That being said, we'll take a look at where the Thunder stack up in this week's national media power rankings roundup.
ESPN Power Ranking:
The Oklahoma City Thunder stand their ground at #4 on ESPN's weekly power rankings. Despite their slight falter last week, ESPN's panel acknowledges OKC as a top-tier team in the league for yet another week. A large contributor to Oklahoma City's success on both ends of the floor has been red-shirt rookie Chet Holmgren, who's on the verge of something no other rookie has achieved in NBA history.
"Chet Holmgren had his third 30-point performance of the season in Monday's win over the Wizards, and he has shot better than 60% from the floor in all of them. Holmgren has surprised many scouts and coaches around the league by instantly establishing himself as an efficient and effective scoring complement to MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Holmgren is averaging 17.8 points while shooting 55.1% from the floor and 40.9% from 3-point range. No rookie has ever averaged that many points with an effective field goal percentage as high as Holmgren's (62.4)."- Tim MacMahon
Holmgren's impact has been clear as day since the first time he stepped onto an NBA floor in the preseason. While Holmgren himself didn't transform the Thunder from a sub-.500 team into a top team in the league, he has played a vital role in the team's ascension.
The continued growth of superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along with Jalen Williams, Lu Dort, and a majority of the Thunder's young core is equally as crucial to the Thunder's yearly improvement. But Holmgren's arrival has unlocked so much for the Thunder on both sides of the ball.
Holmgren's aforementioned offensive efficiency is rare for any rookie, let alone one who had serious concerns about his frame and ability to hold up during an NBA season. Holmgren has done more than hold up thus far. While being the league's top rookie so far almost halfway through the season, Holmgren has played and started in all 35 of the Thunder's games. Pretty impressive for a guy who was deemed too skinny and not durable enough after a freak injury in the summer of 2022.
What stands out most about Holmgren's offensive game aside from his versatility is his elite mindset. Holmgren forces nothing on offense, always taking what the defense gives him. This mindset allows him to play freely without any type of agenda and without the notion that he needs to "get his". Holmgren receives numerous efficient looks each game within the flow of the Thunder's offense. More often than not, he punishes the opposing team for giving him these great looks.
The rest of ESPN's NBA power rankings can be read here.
NBA.com Power Ranking:
The Thunder reign supreme as the #1 team in the league in this week's NBA.com power ranking. Greatly helped by their win over the Boston Celtics, the Thunder catapulted themselves over the rest of the league in the past week according to NBA.com
John Schuhmann of NBA.com notes that Oklahoma City's two road losses to the Hawks and Nets were extremely uncharacteristic for a usually focused and energized Thunder squad.
"They trailed just two of their first 32 games by at least 20 points. But the Thunder trailed by 21 in Atlanta on Wednesday, and were down 32 in Brooklyn two nights later, having lost the two first quarters by a combined score of 78-46. Amazingly they had a chance to tie the Atlanta game (and drew up a great play to get Isaiah Joe a corner 3) and cut the 32-point deficit in Brooklyn down to six."- John Schuhmann
While the Thunder did cut both large deficits into single-digit leads for the opposition, both games were essentially lost in the first quarter for OKC. It was apparent that Oklahoma City's effort wasn't up to par in both contests, which is inevitable and bound to happen during an 82-game season requiring heavy and frequent travel.
This is not an excuse for the Thunder's poor play on the road as of late, but rather some context as to why it's been poor and insight into a harsh reality that all 30 teams in the Association face during stretches of the season. Providing even more context into these losses, the Thunder simply got outplayed by both Atlanta and Brooklyn.
The highs and lows of the NBA season often cause media members and fans to overreact to outcomes that oftentimes shouldn't warrant much of a reaction at all. The Thunder had little to no effort, low energy, poor execution, and got outplayed on the road by less talented teams. These things happen to every team at some point. It's okay. The sky is not falling in Oklahoma City.
The rest of Schuhmann's NBA.com power rankings can be read here.
The Athletic Power Ranking:
Oklahoma City remains in the "Contenders" category on The Athletic's weekly power ranking but dropped from #2 last week to #4 this week. In this week's power rankings, Zach Harper of the Athletic elected which teams should buy versus sell at the deadline and explained why.
For Oklahoma City, Harper deemed the Thunder to be buyers at the trade deadline. Harper acknowledges that OKC is probably best off going through the playoffs with their current roster construction and making decisions about the roster in the offseason.
The Thunder will more likely than not elect to make marginal moves at the deadline. Shipping out upcoming restricted free agent Aleksej Pokusevski might be as interesting as it gets for OKC in February.
Many anticipate this deadline to be similar to last season's, in which the Thunder sent out upcoming restricted free agent Darius Bazley and veteran big man Mike Muscala for the expiring contract of Dario Saric and second-round draft compensation.
While blockbuster mid-season trades do happen, they often don't work out nearly as well as most anticipate. For an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is driven by internal improvement and continuity, it's difficult to imagine them going "all-in" and capitulating a portion of their assets for a star that might not fit into the long-term outlook of the organization.
Sam Presti and the Thunder brass will always keep their options open when it comes to improving the roster. However, aside from maybe one minor addition to the bench unit, the Thunder rotation you're watching on a night-to-night basis now is likely the one you'll be seeing them roll out in the late spring.
The Athletic's full power rankings list can be viewed here.
The Week Ahead:
The Oklahoma City Thunder will see one of their busiest stretches of the season in the upcoming week. OKC will play five games in seven nights including two separate back-to-backs. The Thunder will open their strenuous week of play in Miami against a banged-up and relatively inconsistent Heat team on Wednesday night.
Despite being inconsistent with their play so far, Miami is still tied for the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Heat swept the Thunder in last season's series, with the losses coming by one and two points respectively. Miami's defense is always tough to crack, which will provide a great test for this Thunder team who is trying to find its footing again.
The Thunder will then return to Paycom Center the following night to face off against the Portland Trailblazers. The Thunder are up 1-0 on the season series against the Blazers so far, with their last match-up against Portland also coming on the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder will look to avoid coming out flat in this glaringly obvious trap game.
OKC will stay at home and face off against a budding Orlando Magic squad in what should be an electric Saturday night atmosphere at Paycom Center. The Thunder split the season series against the Magic last year, with the win coming on their home turf.
The Thunder will then hit the road to take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This game will be the third time the Thunder and Lakers face off this season, with the season series being split 1-1 so far. OKC will look to rebound from their lackluster shooting performance the last time these two squads matched up just days before Christmas.
The second night of the back-to-back will require no travel as the Thunder will face off against Los Angeles' other team, the Clippers. The Clippers have been one of the league's hottest teams since the start of December. The Thunder beat LAC at home in their only match-up of the season so far, but the Clippers were without their leading scorer Kawhi Leonard.
This coming week will provide the Thunder with many tests based on both their involved schedule and the opponents in that schedule. These tests will provide the Thunder with many answers as they approach the halfway point of the season.