The Oklahoma City Thunder have won eight of their first 11 games this season. It’s a pretty good record but you can make the case that the Thunder have lost to the three best teams they have played so far this season.
Two of the Thunder losses this year have been to the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, two of the top two teams in the Western Conference right now. The Thunder will play a third team in that same class tonight as the Los Angeles Clippers come to town.
Kevin Martin has been a pleasant surprise for the Thunder so far this year. He’s averaging 17.6 points per game off the bench and shooting 53.6 percent from downtown. But against the Spurs and Grizzlies, he was pretty absent for the Thunder.
That needs to change tonight against the Clippers and that’s why there is maybe more pressure on Martin than anyone else for this game. If the Thunder lose again on national television to one of the top teams in the West while Martin no-shows, it will look very bad.
Last Wednesday it was Martin scoring just seven points on 1-of-4 shooting as the Thunder lost 107-97 to the Grizzlies on ESPN. Memphis played a brand of defense not usually seen around the league. They were tough and in your face and Martin looked passive, unable to initiate any offense for himself.
Basically, Martin looked like he was not as good as James Harden would have been. The Thunder could have used Harden vs. Memphis and that was an obvious takeaway from that game.
For most of this season, Martin has been a fine substitute for Harden, even producing better than Harden did a year ago. That hasn’t been the case on the national stage though.
Martin will face one of the tougher defenses in the league in the Clippers tonight. They have been one of the best teams defending spot-up shooting plays in the league so far this year, which has been Martin’s greatest strength offensively.
Martin will be challenged to do more than just shoot open threes because those opportunities will be less than normal. Martin’s one of the best in the league and putting the ball on the floor for a dribble or two after a pumpfake and drawing a foul. He needs to make that play tonight, get to the line early and get his confidence going in the first half.
To help lessen the pressure on Martin and the second unit in general, the Thunder have recently altered their rotation. Kevin Durant now comes out of the game earlier, around the 3-minute mark of the first quarter. That way he can return for the start of the second quarter with the rest of the second unit.
This could be key tonight for the Thunder and Martin especially. With Durant on the floor, open spot-up shots will be more available. Durant’s recently been in the mood of finding players for those shots as well. He’s coming off his first ever triple-double in the Thunder’s last game in which seven of his ten assists led to 3-point shots for his teammates.
As two of the top teams from the West collide tonight, keep a close eye on the bench squads and Martin. The Thunder really haven’t beaten a solid team yet this season and Martin has yet to impress on the national stage. It may be early in the season but both of those things are important for the Thunder.
The pressure is on tonight. Will Martin rise to the challenge?