The Oklahoma City Thunder played five times in the last week, and the lessons learned over that stretch were valuable for this growing team. The Thunder handled a banged-up Miami Heat squad on the road, only to return home the next night where they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers by an Oklahoma City franchise record 62 points.
OKC pulled out a gritty win over the Orlando Magic at home over the weekend, before dropping a tough one to the Los Angeles Lakers in LA on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Similarly to the Thunder's previous loss to the Lakers, one of the league's top three-point shooting teams could not get any outside shots to fall at a consistent enough clip to pull out a road win.
The Thunder concluded the second night of this LA back-to-back against the Clippers on Tuesday night.
In a game where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chet Holmgren combined for 27 points on 8-26 shooting and 0-5 from deep, the Thunder struggled to put together any consistent offensive stretches.
Jalen Williams continued to shine bright in this match-up against the Clippers as he's flashed legitimate All-NBA potential for the majority of this season.
His ability to be a secondary facilitator while also providing consistent and efficient scoring adds another unique layer to OKC's offensive attack.
Although we are just about halfway through the regular season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still learning about themselves.
Despite suffering a few tough losses since the New Year, the Thunder are gaining valuable experiences and can learn important lessons from these defeats.
OKC continues to get different looks on a night-to-night basis and is getting a glimpse at some of the coverages that they will be seeing in the playoffs. The Thunder have proven that they can win in more ways than one, something that is vital come the postseason.
We'll take a look at where the Thunder's performance over the past seven days lands them in this week's NBA power rankings round-up.
ESPN Power Rankings:
The Thunder stand firmly at #4 in ESPN's weekly power rankings. Tim MacMahon of ESPN's excerpt is focused on Jalen Williams, specifically his growth as a playmaker.
"Second-year forward Jalen Williams' progress as a playmaker serves as an example of the development of the Thunder's young, core players while they compete for the top spot in the West standings. Williams averaged 6.0 assists in the past 10 games entering Tuesday night's matchup with the Clippers, including a career-best 12 assists in a win over the Heat. He had dished out six or more assists only four times all season before that stretch."- Tim MacMahon
Williams' growth as a playmaker has added a whole new element to OKC's offense. The non-Gilgeous-Alexander minutes have caused the Thunder problems over the years.
Williams' ability to be a secondary scoring option when Gilgeous-Alexander is on the floor, and the lead ball handler, when Gilgeous-Alexander is off the floor, is a true luxury.
Jalen Williams has developed more than just his playmaking; he is one of the league's most efficient volume scorers as well.
Some second-year NBA players fall into a "sophomore slump" where their counting stats remain close to the same as their rookie year, but their efficiency drops off due to an increase in shot attempts.
Williams has completely bucked this trend. His counting stats have virtually all risen, going from 14.1 points/game in his rookie campaign to 18.6 points/game this season.
The real story is Williams' rise in efficiency. While his shot attempts have risen from 10.6 shots/game to 13.1 shots/game, Williams' already efficient shooting as a rookie at 52% has been upped to 55% from the field in his second year.
While shooting slightly more threes/game this season, Williams' efficiency has risen 10% from 35.6% last season to 45% (!) from deep this season.
Jumps like these are atypical from such a young player and suggest that Williams' future in this league is extremely bright; brighter than most casual NBA fans may realize.
The rest of the ESPN.com power rankings can be found here.
NBA.com Power Rankings:
The Oklahoma City Thunder held their spot as the #1 team in the league in John Schuhmann's NBA.com power rankings.
While the Thunder's inability to hit open looks from deep against the Magic didn't cost them a victory, it did in LA against the Lakers.
While it can be frustrating from a viewer's perspective (especially in the moment), it's important to consider the quality of these outside looks. Despite lacking any consistency from deep as of late, the Thunder almost always guarantee they get clean looks.
"They shot just 8-for-36 (22%) from beyond the arc on Saturday, but still outscored the Magic (24-21) from deep and still rank second in 3-point percentage (39.2%). One reason is that 69% of their 3-point attempts, the league’s highest rate by a wide margin, have been wide open, according to Second Spectrum tracking."- John Schuhmann
Oklahoma City's ability to devastate teams in the paint leads to wide-open looks on the perimeter as the defense is forced to collapse on drivers and cutters. While most nights these clean looks yield great results, there will inevitably be games where the same looks don't fall; and that's okay.
The Thunder's offense is one of the most well-balanced attacks in the league. The uncanny ability to get into the paint forces the defense to make a choice, and any hesitation from the defense typically leads to points for OKC.
Schuhmann's thoughts on the rest of the league in this week's NBA.com power rankings can be found here.
The Athletic Power Rankings:
The OKC Thunder come in at #3 on The Athletic's weekly power rankings, jumping up one spot from last week.
Zach Harper of The Athletic notes how the Thunder's preseason over/under of 44.5 games might have been set a bit too low.
As of now, Oklahoma City is on pace to win 56 games and have home-court advantage in at least the first round of the NBA playoffs. For a team with such minimal playoff experience and simply game experience in general, home-court advantage could be a huge deal for the Thunder.
Think back to the beginning of the "Loud City" days. That young and inexperienced Thunder team fed off the energy of the home crowd who could seemingly will them to victory.
The Thunder's fight for homecourt advantage is justifiable by simply turning up the volume and listening to the crowd in each of those clips. Loud City is electrifying in the postseason and a place that no opposing team in the league wants any part of.
The Thunder are ramping up for a return to the postseason for the first time in almost a half-decade. Most franchises are not as lucky as the Thunder.
Drafting three MVPs in consecutive years is something that will probably never happen again. For a variety of reasons, that iteration of the team couldn't reach the top of the mountain in Oklahoma City's first climb.
This version of the Oklahoma City Thunder organization is well-prepared for the team's second climb. They are carrying the successes of the past along with the failures.
The organization has grown and learned from the mistakes of the past. The one thing that will remain the same from the first climb; Loud City will be there every step of the way as their team finds its way to the top of the mountain.
The Athletic's full power rankings list can be found here.
The Week Ahead:
The Oklahoma City Thunder will head out to Salt Lake City to face the suddenly red-hot Utah Jazz on Thursday night.
The Thunder are 1-0 against their division rival so far this season, with the lone game at Paycom Center where the Thunder easily handled a banged-up Jazz team. This should be a great game between two of the league's hottest teams since Christmas.
OKC will continue their road trip in Minneapolis on Saturday night when the West's top two teams match up. The Thunder and the Timberwolves have split the season series 1-1 so far, with both teams winning their home game.
OKC will look to buck this trend and take down Minnesota on their home floor, a place where they have only been defeated twice all season.
The Thunder will return to Oklahoma City on Tuesday for their final game of the week against the Portland Trail Blazers. Don't expect a 62-point blowout victory this time around. Portland will be motivated and looking to respond to their embarrassing loss in OKC less than two weeks prior.
Remember back in 2021 when the Thunder lost to the Memphis Grizzlies by 73 points? Well, they matched up again just 19 days later, and the Thunder responded with a three-point victory, shocking the entire NBA world.
Teams take embarrassing losses personally, so best believe Portland has next Tuesday's contest circled on their calendar. OKC must be ready to handle Portland's best punch in this contest.