Mar 10, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kevin Martin (23) handles the ball against Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry (4) during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Martin is the key for the OKC Thunder’s title hopes

Around this time last year I was writing about how James Harden was the key to the Oklahoma City Thunder winning the NBA title.

Harden had just gotten elbowed in the head by Metta World Peace and we weren’t quite sure how he’d do in the playoffs. Well, he was fantastic taking over in the fourth quarter of Game 4 vs. the Dallas Mavericks then doing a lot of the same vs. the Lakers and Spurs.

There were a lot of reasons why the Miami Heat beat the Thunder in the NBA Finals and one of the biggest was Harden’s poor play. Had he just been bad instead of terrible, the Thunder win that series. If he would have dominated, like everyone thought he would have and why the Thunder were favored to win that series, then it might have been a sweep.

Now Harden’s gone but a third wheel is still the key to whether or not the Thunder win the title. That third wheel is now Kevin Martin.

Martin started out this season looking very good. He was fitting in remarkably well with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and giving the Thunder nearly the same scoring off the bench that Harden gave them a season ago.

Martin has gotten progressively worse as the season has gone on. For whatever reason, he just isn’t shooting as well or doing much else and it has resulted in him losing minutes and he is often absent from the floor at the end of games.

We’re seeing the Thunder lose games despite Durant and Westbrook playing well. That was never the case last year and the reason was because Harden was always there ensuring that the Thunder second unit would be much better than their opponent’s.

Martin’s inconsistency has made it impossible for the Thunder second unit to be dominant this season. If he’s not making threes, then he becomes completely pointless. He’s always a defensive liability and rarely makes plays for his teammates.

While the Thunder are in the midst of one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history in terms of point differential, they’ve been amazingly inconsistent and that starts with Martin.

We don’t even know which five players is going to end the game for the Thunder this season. Martin rarely does these days so we’re seeing more of Thabo Sefolosha and even Reggie Jackson. It’s not going to take much for Derek Fisher to convince Scott Brooks to have him on the floor for crunch time so don’t be surprised if we see that in the playoffs too.

Martin needs to step up and assert himself for the Thunder to have any kind of chance to make it to the NBA Finals this season. Unless Durant and Westbrook take their games to levels we haven’t seen before, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder beating the Clippers or Spurs while Martin is no-showing.

What are the chances that Martin steps it up in the playoffs?

I can’t imagine anyone thinking there’s a good chance of this. He’s only played in six playoff games in his career and this season it always seems that the bigger the stage, the worse he performs.

The greatest fear of every Thunder fan is coming true and about to reveal its ugly face to us when the playoffs begin. This Harden trade was a huge mistake and the Thunder didn’t get anything back to help them win this year.

There are a lot of good teams in the Western Conference. It’s not just the Spurs or Clippers that could potentially beat the Thunder. When you look at the Nuggets and Grizzlies, they’re scary too.

Hope has always been extremely high with this Thunder team. After nearly winning it all last year, hope was supposed to reach an all-time high this season. Instead, it’s lower than ever.

One man can change this. Martin can surprise us all and suddenly start playing to his potential in the playoffs. It’s just so hard to imagine that happening.

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