Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8)
The Oklahoma City Thunder were obvious candidates to make a leap this season as the young core locked in for another year and big man Chet Holmgren joined the fold after a year lost to injury. That leap, however, has become a long jump.
The seemingly endless rebuild of the Thunder finally appears to be coming to fruition. They came close last year, but the Thunder appear poised to snap a three-year playoff drought come spring.
The biggest difference for this team from last year has been the arrival of Holmgren. He's lived up to the hype that made him a No. 2 overall draft pick, protecting the rim with all of his might and playing a versatile game on offense. He's the reason a Rookie of the Year nod for Victor Wembanyama is not a foregone conclusion.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has taken another leap and looks like a true All-NBA player. He hasn't been getting enough attention in recent years, but that should soon change as SGA continues to be a worthy successor to Russell Westbrook's point guard throne.
Jalen Williams has emerged as the third member of a prospective Big Three in OKC, though inconsistency still hampers his game from time to time. Still, he's averaging 17.1 points per game and is just 22 years old and in his second season. He'll grow more consistent in time.
There is a cloud hanging over this team by the name of Josh Giddey, who continues to play despite some serious accusations involving an alleged inappropriate relationship. Who knows what the legal process will determine and how Giddey's career will be affected, but it's to the coach's credit that the percolating scandal hasn't hurt the other players, as least on the court.
The reason the Thunder look legitimate is the opposition they've been playing. They've topped the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks and recently beat the Denver Nuggets in a road tilt. They're losses are to the likes of the Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, two of the better teams in the league this season.
Oklahoma City has arrived. They should be here for years to come.
Verdict: For Real