The Oklahoma City Thunder are tanking the 2020-21 season.
Or are they?
Now above .500 with wins this past week over playoff contenders in the New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, the top NBA power rankers are a little less certain about where the Thunder stand in the league.
Suddenly, they’re not at the bottom.
What are other experts and analysts saying about the Thunder early in the season? Here’s a rundown of their placement in power rankings released by major outlets Monday:
ESPN: 24th (up 4)
“Wait, are the Thunder really doing this again? Last season was expected to be the beginning of a rebuild, but OKC shocked the West all season long.” That’s how ESPN’s Royce Young started his segment on the Thunder, who rose four spots in ESPN’s rankings to land at No. 24. He credited Gilgeous-Alexander for leading the Thunder over good teams this week as OKC went 3-1, but did caution fans to not get too excited:
“Before Thunder fans start dreaming about another overachieving season, the upcoming schedule may be a reality check.”
Avert your eyes for this scheduling: OKC will see the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Denver Nuggets and have two games against the Los Angeles Clippers over the next two weeks.
The Athletic: 21st (up 7)
“Well, I am entirely confused with the Oklahoma City Thunder.” That’s how The Athletic’s Zach Harper started his segment. The Thunder moved up seven spots in his rankings because he now doesn’t know if they’re a solid team or a tank job.
“A week ago, they looked like the embodiment of fun tanking. They weren’t winning games, but they had fun individual performances during it. This week? After losing to the Heat, they run off the Pelicans, Knicks and Nets (sans Kyrie Irving). What the hell?”
The Thunder have bad offense and good defense, Harper noted, but there’s one major thing keeping them close: fouling.
They simply don’t foul much. Thunder rarely send opponents to the free-throw line, and it’s keeping their mistakes from being magnified.
NBA.com: 20th (up 8)
Sorry, there wasn’t a fun quote about being confused about the Thunder to lead off the segment, but NBA.com writer John Schuhmann did call them the team of the week: “Break up the Thunder (again)! They went 4-1 on a five-game road trip.” For that, OKC moved up eight whole spots in his ranking. He noticed an interesting trend for the Thunder: Opponents are shooting a lot of 3s against them, but they’re missing a lot, too.
It’s not clear how long this team can stay near .500, but it can stay in games if it continues to defend the 3-point line as well as it has thus far. The Thunder are the only team that ranks in the top five in both opponent 3-point percentage (33.8%, fifth) and the (lowest) percentage of its opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range (34%, second).
We’ll see if that can stick.
The Rookie Wire: 13th (N/A)
The Rookie Wire’s first installment of the weekly power rankings showed Oklahoma City a ton of love with this ranking at No. 13. Analyst Cody Taylor wrote:
After starting off 1-3 on the season, the Thunder have since gone 4-1 to move above .500 for the first time. Although it is early, there is just something about the Thunder exceeding expectations in what are supposed to be rebuilding seasons.
Right behind them were the San Antonio Spurs, who the Thunder face on Tuesday, and the Brooklyn Nets, who the Thunder took down on Sunday.
Bleacher Report: 22nd (up 2)
“Oklahoma City has the second-worst offensive rating in the NBA but the 11th-best defensive rating. Clearly the focus is on teaching the young kids to defend. It has resulted in them being 5-4, so why are the Thunder so low in the rankings?”
Bleacher Report asked why 22 is so low in the rankings. Yeah, compared to the Rookie Wire, that kind of is, but after seeing all the 28s last week, 22 feels good for a team that’s supposed to be tanking. Writer Mo Dakhil said he wants to see them beat top teams before he’ll elevate them further (his rationale against the Nets being a top-tier win: Brooklyn was without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant had missed a week). Well, as we covered in the ESPN section, OKC will get that chance shortly.
CBS Sports: 15th (up 14)
Last week, CBS Sports had the Thunder at No. 29. They went from the bottom of the league to splat in the middle at 15. Writer Colin Ward-Henninger complimented Gilgeous-Alexander, but added in that other contributors have played a major role in the team getting to 5-4 through nine games.
“They’ve also seen strong development from Darius Bazley and Hamidou Diallo to go with consistent play from veterans Al Horford and George Hill.”
Right behind the Thunder is the Nets, the Knicks and the Charlotte Hornets, all of whom Oklahoma City has beat this season. Nobody seems too certain about the Thunder, but the team is not at the bottom of the league in these rankings. It’s been a week.