One of the biggest shocks of the 2012-13 NBA season was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin. Another has been just how well Martin has adjusted to his role as Harden’s replacement for the Thunder.
There is always anxiety and apprehension when a team jettisons an established star, and this situation was no exception. However, that unease has been partially remedied thanks to Martin’s play.
The key to Martin’s success in his sixth man role this season has been based on both similarities and differences he shares with Harden. While both share the trait of offensive efficiency, they differ in how they play the game and how they each fit on this Thunder team alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The biggest way Kevin Martin has been able to fill the shoes of James Harden as the Thunder’s sixth man is by being efficient on the offensive end.
During his time in Oklahoma City, Harden was the almost-perfect picture of the efficient offensive surge every team needed coming off its bench. That was especially true during the 2011-12 season, when Harden won Sixth Man of the Year.
By comparing the stats of Martin with Harden’s stats from that year, we can see just how similar (and different) the two sixth men have been.
|Player||Points||Field Goal %||Free Throw %||Three-Point %||Assists||Rebounds|
|James Harden (11-12)||16.8||49.1||84.6||39||3.7||4.1|
As one can see from the chart, there are tradeoffs to be made when comparing the two players. Harden averaged more points and shot a higher percentage from the field, but Martin has shot significantly-higher percentages from the free-throw and three-point lines.
While Martin has not been able to match Harden in every area, he has done as good a job as anyone could have expected from him.
The biggest difference between the two is Harden’s playmaking ability—especially when it comes to grabbing rebounds and dishing out assists. While that is something that Oklahoma City has missed, its absence is actually making the Thunder a better team for the long haul.
The reason for that is how Martin fits into the Thunder’s offense while on the floor with Durant and Westbrook.
As we have seen in recent seasons, the NBA is moving toward a more wide open game, in which playmakers are surrounded by three-point shooters to space the floor. The last two NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, have both won in this way.
The addition of Martin to this Thunder team helps them transform more into that winning style of basketball.
Durant and Westbrook are the primary playmakers. Thabo Sefolosha and Martin now each play significant minutes to stretch the floor with the three-ball. The addition of an outside jumper to Serge Ibaka’s game has made him a factor in this style as well.
With Harden, the Thunder had yet another playmaker who was more of a star than a complementary player. While that was a nice piece to have on their team, at some point problems would likely have surfaced. Having stars is great, but it does you no good if you cannot give each of them the touches they require.
Martin’s better percentage from three makes him a better corresponding piece to give Durant and Westbrook space to work. The ball needs to be in the hands of those two more than anyone else; Martin allows that as a borderline star who does not need to dribble to score.
Whether or not Martin has been a successful replacement for Harden as Oklahoma City’s sixth man will not be decided in January or February or even during the regular season at all.
For now, Martin is doing a good job of replicating what the Thunder had previously in Harden and in giving them a different look that works better with their superstars.
But The Thunder have one goal. Achieving a title is how the entire season will be judged, and the same is true of Martin’s performance.