About a quarter of the way through the season, the NBA's second-youngest team is in the middle of a tough stretch of opponents. Stretches of games like these for young teams go beyond the win-loss column. For the Thunder, it has provided them with a real chance to learn about their roster and the players on it.
After failing to qualify for the knockout round of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament, the Thunder only played two games in the past week. On Thursday night, the Thunder comfortably took care of the Los Angeles Lakers after trailing double digits in the first quarter.
Oklahoma City then took to the road to take on a shorthanded Dallas Mavericks squad on Saturday night.
In a game that saw the Thunder lead by as much as 24, they inexplicably conceded 30 unanswered points to Dallas. Showing great poise, the Thunder managed to stick together and gut out a win on the road.
Games like these demonstrate the Thunder's maturity despite being an extremely young roster. The bend, not break attitude of the roster is what will bode well for them in the postseason for years to come.
Following an unblemished week in the record books against two strong Western Conference foes, we'll take a look at this week's national media power rankings and see where the Thunder stack up against the rest of the league.
ESPN Power Rankings:
The Thunder come in at #4 on this week's ESPN power rankings. Oklahoma City is cementing its status as a top team in the league. OKC has leaned on a combination of potent offense and stifling defense to win over 65% of their games through a quarter of the season. Tim MacMahon of ESPN notes how the Thunder are in a class of their own when it comes to offensive and defensive rating.
"Oklahoma City is fifth in the league in both offense and defense and is the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both. OKC's net rating (plus-8.4) is a tenth of a point behind Boston for league best, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as an early MVP-candidate with the NBA's second-best overall plus-minus (plus-163)."- Tim MacMahon
The Thunder's offense is one of the most unique the league has ever seen. Mark Daigneault maximizes each player on the offensive side of the ball without asking them to change their skill set or adapt to the system. The players are the system in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder's offensive philosophy is clear; create advantages for our players. Whether it's a guard-to-guard screen in the half court, setting a screen on Chet Holmgren's defender as he is trailing the action, or running their somewhat known "Minnesota" play for SGA off an opposing team's made free throw, Daigneault's offense is catered directly to his players and their unique strengths.
With Daigneault at the helm, the Thunder will constantly be seeking ways to improve on both sides of the ball. The NBA world will be seeing the Thunder at the top of both offensive and defensive rating charts for years to come.
The rest of ESPN's weekly power rankings can be found here.
NBA.com Power Rankings:
OKC's strong week landed them at #4 on John Schuhmann's NBA.com power rankings for week 7.
The Thunder's ability to protect the ball and limit turnovers has been a large proponent of their early season success. They value the ball on offense and have an extremely disruptive defense that turns the opposing team over fifth most per game in the Association. Schuhmann takes note of OKC's positive turnover differential.
"For the second straight season, the Thunder rank second in turnover differential, averaging 2.6 per game fewer than their opponents and having committed fewer turnovers than their opponent in 12 of their last 13 games."- John Schuhmann
Lu Dort, Cason Wallace, and J Dub spearhead the Thunder's elite perimeter defense, forcing opposing team turnovers left and right. But Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is somewhat discreetly leading the league in total steals and steals per game. SGA's improvement on the defensive side of the ball over the last few years has propelled the Thunder to new heights.
"Gilgeous-Alexander had a quieter night in Dallas on Saturday, but came up with the steal to seal the game after managed to recover from blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead. He leads the league with 2.4 steals per game, having seen an increase in each of his last three seasons."- John Schuhmann
NBA.com's week 7 power rankings can be read in full here.
CBS Sports Power Rankings:
Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports.com placed the Thunder at #3 on his weekly (each Tuesday-Monday) power ranking. Although dropping a close game to the West's top team, Ward-Henninger realizes the Thunder had two strong wins against Western Conference foes who have each made the conference finals in the past two seasons.
To beat some of the top teams in the league, your best players have to show up. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did just that. As efficient as ever, Shai does it all for the Thunder.
"Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was brilliant, as usual, averaging 27 points, seven assists and three steals on 57/38/95 splits. He's good."- Colin Ward-Henninger
He's more than good. He plays the game the right way. On a night against the Mavs where he saw a double team the moment he passed the timeline, Shai still found ways to leave his imprint on the game. He got off the ball early and although his teammates struggled to make plays out of it, Shai never wavered from making the right play all night long.
Most superstar players in the league would be visibly frustrated with not getting a single shot attempt in the middle of an opposing team's 30-0 and give up on the game. Not Shai.
With a two-point lead and 40 seconds left, Gilgeous-Alexander made the biggest play of the game by stealing Luka Doncic's inbound pass and scoring the ball at the other end, essentially ending the contest.
Plays like this demonstrate Gilgeous-Alexander's buy-in to the Thunder's culture. The bottom line for OKC and SGA is winning games; whatever it takes. Ward-Henninger's thoughts on the rest of the league can be found here.
The Week Ahead
The Thunder will take to the road for a single game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Substantially improved from last season, the Rockets are 8-1 at home and will provide the Thunder with a challenge in the teams' first matchup of the year.
On Friday night the Thunder will return home to close out the season series against the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder have won two out of the three matchups versus the Dubs, with the sole loss coming in a game played without SGA which came down to a controversial game-winner from Stephen Curry.
OKC will finish this week's slate of games on Monday night against the Utah Jazz at Paycom Center. This will be the Thunder's first matchup of the year against their division rivals, with the Thunder taking three of the four contests against the Jazz last season.