In late December, TI took a look at the eight teams ranked 5th through 13th in terms of their schedule to the close. Several teams have moved up and down the ladder in the 20 days since this article, with OKC Thunder taking part as one of the most successful teams in this group.

The team that made the biggest jump is the Suns, who fell from fifth to 12th place, while the Kings and Warriors made the biggest jumps (each climbing three rungs of the ladder).

Arguably the biggest takeaway from examining where these eight teams are 20 days later is that only one team has increased their lead over the Thunder — the Kings, and by just half a game.

OKC Thunder has performed like a top 10 club in the last 15 games

The bottom line is that the OKC Thunder aren’t just flirting with being a play-in seed, they have a legitimate shot at advancing to the sixth set and avoiding the tournament altogether.

We can debate whether this is the best move for the franchise, with equally compelling reasons for both sides of the argument. What’s not up for debate is that this iteration of the OKC Thunder has taken a step up. Beating the best teams and winning away are qualities playoff teams strive to master – and the Thunder are doing those things with increasing consistency.

Another quality of this team is the quiet humility it exudes. While the Grizzlies’ bravery is fun, this personality is unique to them. It’s also a reflection of her star, Ja Morant. Similarly, the OKC Thunder appear to have adopted their leader’s behavior. Sha Gilgeous-Alexander is the silent assassin who won’t stop even if you prepare for him.

Despite beating the Celtics and beating teams like the 76ers and Nets on their home courts, the Thunder players threw no bravery or shadows. Rather, they often state that they are growing and learning and enjoying the process. That humility is endearing and makes it even easier to cheer for this team.

Ultimately, the way this team is rolling seems sure to be heading towards postseason action. The only question is whether it’s going to be a play-in game or whether they’ll continue the climb and earn a solid place in the playoffs.

The team’s most recent game would suggest they are more likely to climb further than fall outside the play-in berths. Isolating the last 15 days, the Thunder would rank in the top 10 on both offense and defense.

Specifically, they rank ninth on offense (116.6 points) and an impressive fourth on defense (111.1). The category that is often the most meaningful is net difference, as it can highlight teams that can be strong on one side of the field but not on the other.

When a team achieves a plus ranking, it speaks to a more balanced club and the OKC Thunder do well in that regard too, finishing fifth in their last 15 games.

Perhaps the most important reason to believe this young squad is heading into the postseason is its performance against top teams. According to John Schuhmann, they played the sixth toughest opponents on the list in the first half. He notes that the OKC Thunder will face the second-lightest group of opponents in the second half. The only team with an easier opponent list are the Kings, currently in fourth place.

Considering the OKC Thunder were missing Chet Holmgren, whom they picked runner-up in the 2022 draft, it’s almost unimaginable that they sit in 10th place and have a very good chance of moving further up. Holmgren will undoubtedly improve areas of the game that the Thunder is currently struggling with, such as: B. Rim and paint protection, and help with rebounding.

In addition to Holmgren, the team was thin in advance with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aleksej Pokusevski and other members of their front court sidelined through injury, but they still won.

OKC Thunder’s length is still very much in play, however, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey have feasted on the opposing team’s backcourts.

Over the next two days, the majority of the teams surrounding the Thunder will be in action, each facing a tougher opponent than the Thunder (Pacers minus Haliburton).

After Indiana, the OKC Thunder will be tested in the next five-game stint with the 4th-seeded and best players in the West (Kings, Nuggets) plus the Hawks, Cavaliers and Warriors.

However, the planned segment after those five games could dictate where the OKC Thunder will be on the ladder by the end of the season. It features numerous matches against the teams grouped around Thunder from the parity pack.

Once again, the Thunder have proven their ability to beat the best teams, placing in the top 10 in all three main categories, and their best players have developed a rhythm that the opposing teams couldn’t match.

Sure, there are still areas where Mark Daigneault needs his team to improve, e.g. B. How to start games.

However, even with bad habits to break and the need to get more of their frontcourt healthy, it’s looking increasingly likely that the OKC Thunder will participate in the postseason.

While there is potential for the team to drop out of the play-in tournament again, given their recent game it feels more like the OKC Thunder will be one of six teams based on the results of the play-in wait for the tournament.

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