The Oklahoma City Thunder's special young core is evolving at an unprecedented pace

The Oklahoma City Thunder are building something special.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been a force for the Thunder.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been a force for the Thunder. / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages

No one can stop the Oklahoma City Thunder's unexpected yet understandable ascension in the Western Conference.

Nobody expected the Oklahoma City Thunder to be this good this fast. The realistic expectations for the Thunder heading into the start of the season were to finish in the middle of the pack in a stacked Western Conference. It's a good thing that expectations can be overrated at times as this team appears to be poised and focused on finishing this season strong and making some real noise in the playoffs.

The Thunder have an opportunity to separate themselves as they prepare for a marquee matchup against the defending NBA champions Denver Nuggets Wednesday night. The Thunder have fared well against the champs this season compiling a 2-1 record against them. Against the other top teams in the West (Wolves, Clippers, and Kings) the Thunder are 5-6.

While it's a losing record, it still shows that this team can indeed compete with the best of them. Even though these are only regular season games, it's a litmus test for this young team to see how will they be able adversity and it will be interesting to see how the Thunder bounce back after tough losses.

With Chet Holmgren performing well as a Rookie of the Year candidate, Jalen Williams picking up where he left off from last season, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander transcending into superstardom and firmly entrenching himself into the MVP conversation, the Thunder are going to be a tough competition for any team.

Sam Presti and Mark Daigneault deserve credit

What Thunder general manager Sam Presti has done with this roster is nothing short of incredible and now he is watching his vision come to fruition. The scary thing about this team is their youth. Their average age is 23 and they have already taken huge leaps in defying expectations as an organization. Everyone knew that this team would excel eventually but not at the rate they are going.

The only thing that could possibly hold this team back are injuries and the front office mismanaging the team but this team appears to be in good hands as they are set up well for the present and the future due to Presti's efforts. The Thunder's roster is deep and talented and the oldest player they have is 31-year-old veteran Davis Bertans. Even head coach Mark Daigneault is considered young by head coaching standards at 38. He is highly underrated as he always has his team prepared and locked in as the young players under his guidance approach the game like a veteran group.

Not only was this roster developed internally but Daigneault is also from within the Thunder organization and was the head coach of Oklahoma City's G-League affiliate Oklahoma City Blue.

The Oklahoma City Thunder's emerging young core

The Thunder are led by emerging superstar and MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. His personal success can be largely attributed to the success the Thunder are having as the team has developed and is contending way ahead of schedule.

Gilgeous-Alexander was voted in as a starter in this year's NBA All-Star Game and it will be his 2nd selection. He also made All-NBA First Team last season and it appears that he will earn that honor once again if he continues having his familiar brilliant performances. Chet Holmgren has not disappointed in turning one of the worst defensive teams in the league into one of the top defensive units.

Jalen Williams, who is 2nd on the team in scoring, has a nice mix of athleticism, shooting, and basketball IQ. He is also efficient on and off the ball and he can also create for his teammates. Josh Giddey has become a key part of what the Thunder are building and he is a huge reason why the Thunder's ball movement is second to none. Giddey's ability to read the game and his passing ability are heads above the rest and probably would be top 10 in assists if he played more minutes and if Gilgeous-Alexander wasn't the primary ball handler.

The fact of the matter is that this team has endless potential and the aforementioned players combined with the other talented players make this a very dangerous team.

Looking Ahead

After suffering an embarrassing 16-point loss to the Detroit Pistons and losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder should come out with a renewed vigor and hunger to get a much-needed statement victory to help solidify their spot in the West.

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The top 4 teams are so close in the standings that positioning likely won't be determined until the final days of the regular season.