The Oklahoma City Thunder have provided us with many great moments so far this season. While the highs have come far more frequently, there have undoubtedly been some lows. This past week encapsulates the Thunder's overall season to this point fairly accurately. Lots of highs, and a glaring low.
The Thunder dropped a season-high 140 points in San Antonio on national television last Wednesday. Chet Holmgren versus Victor Wembanyama did not disappoint, as the "Unicorn" and the "Alien" balled out all night long.
This game also showcased Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's dominance, Cason Wallace's two-way impact, and Aaron Wiggins' ability to save basketball, among other things. The West's best team dominated the West's worst team in just about every facet of the game and easily came out on top.
Oklahoma City traveled to the Big Easy on Friday to face the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans were coming off of a performance where they dropped 153 (!) points just two nights prior. The Thunder almost cut that in half, limiting the Pelicans to an ever-impressive 83 points all night long.
In a night where OKC could never get their offense fully going, it didn't end up mattering as their defense was beyond stellar the whole game. An impressive, gutsy road win for the surging Thunder.
Surely they would continue their winning streak against the historically poor Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon, right?
The Thunder became the first team above .500 on the season to lose to the Pistons. Even worse, the Thunder became only the second team in NBA history to have a winning percentage above .700 and lose to a team that has a winning percentage under .150.
A truly embarrassing performance by the Thunder, but there's not much to say. OKC had no energy and seemed unfocused and uninspired all game long. It happens. In the grand scheme of things, it only counts as a singular loss, even if it felt a lot worse than that at the moment.
The Thunder returned to action the very next night and faced off against the Timberwolves in what was a battle for the top seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for OKC, they fell just short in their efforts to maintain the #1 seed as Minnesota scratched out a tough road W.
We'll take a look at where the Thunder stack up against the rest of the league in the national media's eyes in this week's power rankings round-up.
ESPN Power Rankings:
The Oklahoma City Thunder fall to #7 in this week's ESPN power rankings. Speaking of #7, Tim MacMahon notes that Chet Holmgren's offensive impact has been rather low as of late in his excerpt regarding the Thunder.
"Rookie of the Year candidate Chet Holmgren had his worst two-game offensive stretch during the Thunder's back-to-back losses to the Pistons and Timberwolves. He was held to a combined 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting in the losses, which caused Oklahoma City to fall out of first place in the West. Still, Holmgren is averaging 16.7 points on 53.3% shooting, a major factor in the 32-15 Thunder's success. But Oklahoma City is 2-5 when he fails to score in double digits and 5-8 when he shoots less than 50%."- Tim MacMahon
MacMahon makes a great point, Holmgren's offensive contributions play a huge part in OKC's success, and without it, they struggle. What MacMahon didn't offer up, however, was an explanation for Holmgren's dim offensive week.
Holmgren is one of a small handful of players who are yet to miss a game this season. Coming off a severe injury last season, there were serious questions regarding Holmgren's ability to hold up for an entire NBA season.
These questions were partially posed due to the injury and partially due to his lean frame at the center position. Holmgren takes a beating night in and night out from opposing big men who can sometimes weigh up to 100 lbs more than him. It still is yet to affect Holmgren's ability to suit up and play for the Thunder in every game so far this season.
However, it has noticeably weighed a bit on his on-court performance of late. It's clear that Holmgren is extremely fatigued and isn't 100%. Both the physical and mental stamina it takes to endure the grueling NBA season as an undersized center can not go understated. Holmgren is one of many players who will benefit from the looming All-Star break.
The "rookie wall" is something that is brought up often in the NBA, and it's something Holmgren might just have run into recently. Knowing the competitor that he is, Holmgren will look to break through that wall and continue to play a huge part in the Thunder's success moving forward.
The full ESPN weekly NBA power rankings article can be found here.
NBA.com Power Rankings:
The Thunder stay put at #5 in this week's NBA.com power rankings. John Schuhmann of NBA.com notes that the Thunder have played great against the top teams in the West as of late.
"The Thunder lost five of their first seven games against the other teams currently in the top eight in the West, but have since gone 6-1 against that group. Before their hiccup in Detroit, they went to New Orleans and held what was the league’s eighth-ranked offense to just 83 points on 99 possessions, its least efficient performance of the season."- John Schuhmann
The Thunder have shown an impressive ability to beat the top teams in the Western Conference. Schuhmann goes on to add that 10 of Oklahoma City's 14 games against the top-eight teams in the West have been on the road. A good majority of OKC's remaining games against the top teams in the West will be played at Paycom Center.
Demonstrating the ability to beat some of the best teams in the league on the road is important for this growing Thunder squad. Experiencing high-leverage games like these away from home will prove valuable come playoff time.
The Thunder roster is full of players who lack playoff experience. That being said, the roster is also full of players who play extremely well in high-leverage moments. Gilgeous-Alexander early in his career in the playoffs, Josh Giddey in the Play-In Tournament last season, and Game 7 (and Play-In) Lu Dort just to name a few.
The Thunder will rely on these guys and more to continue to deliver for them in these pressurized situations for years to come.
The rest of the NBA.com power rankings can be found here.
The Week Ahead:
The Thunder will host division-rival Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night at the Paycom Center. OKC has beaten Denver two out of three times the teams have matched up so far this season, with both wins being earned on the road. The Thunder will look to close out the season series against the defending champions with a 3-1 record.
OKC will then host the Charlotte Hornets on Friday in what will be the teams' first meeting of the season. The Hornets swept the season series against the Thunder last season. Oklahoma City will look to avenge the ugly losses from last season and send a message to the lowly Hornets.
On Sunday, the Thunder will welcome Scottie Barnes and the new-look Raptors into town. The Thunder split the season series against Toronto last season, but both teams look drastically different now than they did last season. For context, Eugene Omoruyi was the Thunder's leading scorer the last time the Raptors were in town for a game.
Oklahoma City will close their week out on Tuesday night in Salt Lake City where they'll face off against the Utah Jazz. The Thunder are 2-0 so far in the season series against the Jazz. These teams faced off in the Delta Center just a few weeks ago in an exhilarating contest. Look for another high-energy contest between two of the league's youngest teams.