Without Harden, the Thunder seem surprisingly thin. Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant continue to attempt and adapt to their new roles in the post-Harden era, and have suffered as a result.
Most notably, though, Oklahoma City is just 6-3. It seems like an idiom, because to some extent it is. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when you win six out of your first nine games. But we know the Thunder can to better.
Keeping Kevin Martin involved.
I understand that he’s no Harden, but at the same time, he can at least score as much as he did. He’s not the passer, the defender or even the overall athlete, but he can score.
That said, he won’t score if he isn’t taking shots. And he won’t take shots unless the ball is in his hand, which is something the Thunder need to ensure that they’re more aware of moving forward.
In each of Martin’s first eight games with Oklahoma City, he scored in double-figures, as much as 28, but no less than 13. In the Thunder’s most recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies however, he scored just seven points on four shots. Four. That’s it. And that’s unacceptable, and the Thunder lost by 10 as a result.
At the same time, it must be noted that even with Harden, the Thunder were surprisingly thin—offensively. Sure, he, Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka could score, but who else? Kendrick Perkins? Nick Collison? No and no, at least not consistently or with as much potency as Oklahoma City needed. That left the aforementioned four to carry the scoring burden.
Nothing has changed either. Harden isn’t there, but Martin is, and again, he can score. And the Thunder need him to, otherwise they’re offense runs three deep, and as Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman notes, they’re not going to win like that:
The Harden of two years ago on occasion could disappear. The Harden of last season did not disappear. That made a huge difference for the Thunder. The Thunder can’t allow Martin to be a non-factor. He has to be a major element in every game, even if he’s having an off night.
I don’t know if Martin wasn’t being assertive, or if the Grizzlies had Westbrook and Co. in such a frenzy, Martin was forgotten. Doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s got to change. The Thunder is not built for one of its stars to veg out. And like it or not, Martin has star status on this team. He has to produce for the Thunder to excel.
You see, this isn’t just about Harden leaving. It’s about Oklahoma City’s failure to incorporate Martin into the offense properly. There have been spurts where he’s looked like a star, but then he disappears. The Thunder can’t have that. And though that’s on Martin to a certain extent—he needs to be continuously aggressive—it’s up to Durant and Westbrook, among others, to get him the ball as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the Thunder are a deep team overall. They wouldn’t have made it to the finals otherwise. But their deep with talent, specific talent. Some guys are defenders, others are rebounders and shot blockers, and then there are scorers. Oklahoma City has four of the latter.
And it needs to ensure its maximizing the potential of every single one of them, every night.
Lest the post James Harden era be marked by unjustified mediocrity.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.