By almost every measure, the Oklahoma City Thunder are well ahead of the curve for a team with relative inexperience, with their place in the Western Conference standings confirming that irrefutable truth.
The Thunder entered the season with the second-youngest roster in the NBA, with only the San Antonio Spurs taking the court with a younger group on a given night.
Yet, entering Wednesday’s road game against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder are second in the West behind the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves, having taken full advantage of the critical experience gleaned from their unexpected run to the play-in tournament last season.
With that core burnished by the addition of center Chet Holmgren, the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October and November, the Thunder appear set to shatter the glass ceiling for younger squads.
“We are young. I think that means we have runway,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “I think we have to grow through the experiences that we have because we have less of them as a team.
“We’re more focused on trying to be a good team rather than a good young team or anything like that. But I do think we have an uncommon poise and maturity about us, but I would say we have that relative to all teams, not just young teams.”
Central to their early-season success is how the Thunder have played on the road, where they sport a .778 winning percentage, 7-2, compared with a 6-4 mark in Oklahoma City. The secret to that success isn’t at all complicated.
“Probably our starts,” Thunder second-year forward Jalen Williams said. “It’s just something we’ve been trying to hold ourselves accountable with all season, whether it’s home or away. Obviously, it’s hard to have a bad start on an away game and be successful. That’s something that we’re consciously mindful of.
“And then you’ve got to play a little extra hard on the road because there’s a lot of other outside factors that evolve around the game.”
The Rockets have yet to solve that riddle, recently completing an 0-3 road trip that left them as the lone winless team on the road in the NBA. Even the struggling Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, whose five combined wins are three fewer than the Rockets’ total, have won on the road.
The San Antonio Spurs, mired in a 14-game skid, recorded their lone home win of the season on Oct. 27 against Houston.
Despite their road woes, the Rockets are 10th in the West at roughly the quarter pole of the schedule and occupy a play-in spot. Houston is riding an eight-game home winning streak and, following a 10-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, spent subsequent practices addressing specifics causing troubles on the road.
“It’s an ongoing thing, it’s thinking about it all the time,” Rockets forward Dillon Brooks said. “It’s adjusting yourself and seeing what you can bring to the team, what you’ve been slacking on and getting back to the basics with different things on the defensive end.”