For years, Kevin Martin was a player I hoped would land on a bigger stage. He was maybe the most efficient scorer in the NBA, a guy who could shoot the three, had a deceptively good handle and knew how to get to the line. He scored more than 20 points a game for five straight seasons but outside fantasy players most casual fans didn’t seem to know or realize how good he was.
He’s on a bigger stage now — he is the main piece coming back to Oklahoma City in the James Harden trade. (We can talk about Jeremy Lamb, but he is long term not this season.)
But after a season where his game and numbers regressed, how will Martin do on that stage? The other challenge will be how he fits in OKC, where he will get the minutes of a very different style of player in James Harden.
Martin brings skills that will help the Thunder. That starts with his ability to just plain shoot the rock. He’s a career 37.7 percent shooter from three with a quick release. You have to respect him out there but when defenders close he has the handles to go around him and hit a long two (he shot 44 percent from 16 feet out to the arc last season). Martin has a good pump fake and a better crossover than people expect and those create space — and he doesn’t need much to get a shot off.
It’s easy to see Martin being a threat playing on the wing and keeping defenses honest when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on the floor.
But what Harden did well was keep the second unit scoring while Westbrook and Durant rested, and that is where the adjustments will have to come in for OKC.
Martin is simply not near the playmaker Harden is. Now some of the shot creation duties will fall to point guard Eric Maynor. Martin though will get looks, both in transition and some in isolation. He has to get back to the things he did before last year’s regression (when his shooting percentage slumped to 41.3 percent).
That starts with getting to the line. Martin knew how to draw fouls — he averaged more than 10 free throws a game in 2009. But last year his free throws attempted per game dropped almost by half what it was the year before, down to 4.5. The NBA stopped calling fouls on the “rip move” (a Martin specialty) but it was more than that, it was how he was used in the offense and how he attacked out of it. He has to find that comfort zone again.
Martin also works well off the ball and the Thunder should consider running some Ray Allen-like screens.
But whatever they do, it will be different. The Thunder have adjustments to make that could take some time for the players to get used to.
But at least Martin is on a big stage now and we get to see what he does with that.