Kevin Martin will be compared to James Harden all season long after the two were traded for each other just a few days before the start of the season.
Harden has begun the season looking like an All-Star for the Houston Rockets while Martin has done very well himself with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Martin scored at least 15 points in each of the Thunder’s first seven games this season before beginning to struggle somewhat in the past two games. Martin was held to just seven points in OKC’s last game at home vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, a game where OKC really could have used the Harden from last year instead of Martin this year.
There are obviously some differences between Martin and Harden but Martin has been able to do a lot of the things Harden did last year. He’s scoring 16.0 points per game and doing it in an efficient manner. The assists are down at just 1.8 per game for Martin but he’s not handling the ball as much as Harden did.
Are the Thunder using Martin the right way though? Sometimes it feels like they are just sticking him in places where they used Harden a season ago.
Martin’s efficient scoring has been impressive so far this year. He’s scoring 1.2 points per possession which is better than Harden’s 1.1 PPP a season ago. But Martin isn’t exactly getting his points through the flow of the offense. A lot of times it seems he can manufacture points with bail-out foul calls or unexpected threes with a defender in his face. Martin is a crafty player and has always gotten his points this way but it seems like he could be used in a better way for OKC.
Martin is isolating 18.6 percent of the time on offense this season which is a very high number. Harden only did so 12.7 percent of the time last season. Harden was used as the pick-and-roll ball handler 33 percent of the time while Martin is doing that just 11.9 percent of the time this year.
Martin is shooting a lot more spot-up jumpers than Harden did a year ago, 27.6 percent compared to 14.2 percent for Harden. He’s also coming off screens more at 10.2 percent to 4.9 percent for Harden.
Using Martin coming off screens is the best way to use him and the Thunder aren’t doing enough of it early on this season, which has resulted in more isolation plays for Martin. Martin is scoring 1.25 points per possession coming off screens which is an extremely good number if he can keep it up.
Martin doesn’t need to be the pick-and-roll ball handler that Harden was last year because Eric Maynor can take over that role. But using Martin coming off screens more often will be a pretty big change for the Thunder offense that hardly ever runs players off screens in general.
Last season, the Thunder were all about the pick-and-roll and isolation plays. Even Kevin Durant who is one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league is hardly used coming off screens where he would be able to take advantage of that skill to the fullest.
But the Thunder have a new team this year. The change was sudden but it’s the reality and adjustments need to be made, especially when it comes to Martin.
Martin’s scoring numbers in isolation situations and as a spot-up shooter are very good right now and probably will come down some as the season goes on. For the Thunder to counteract that they need to start using him more in spots where he can sustain the high production he has already given them.
The second unit for the Thunder struggled mightily against the tough defense of Memphis two nights ago. That is what it will be like in the playoffs. Expecting your bench to produce at a high clip without running much more than a few isolations and a dribble handoff for Martin isn’t going to cut it.
Martin needs to be running off multiple screens under the basket where Maynor can find him. T will open up a ton for the second unit for the Thunder and they will become one of the best in the league.
The season is still early for the Thunder and Martin has only played nine games with the team. There is time to begin using him more efficiently.