Most scoffed at the notion of him replacing James Harden as the end-all for Oklahoma City’s bench, yet he’s thrived off the pine and the Thunder are just as dominant (if not more) as a result.
To date, the shooting guard is averaging 15 points on 44.6 percent shooting from the floor and career-high 43.9 percent shooting from behind the rainbow. His per-36 minutes averages are comparable to what Harden’s were last season and Oklahoma City’s offense has proved to be 7.3 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor.
Most impressively, though, is the improvement Martin has made on the defensive end. Spending ample time with the second-unit and thus facing backups has undoubtedly helped, but he’s delivered nonetheless. Opposing shooting guards and small forwards are posting a combined PER of 13 per-48 minutes when going up against him, well below the league average of 15.
How’s that for a horrible defender?
Not bad—at all.
Had it not been for the sudden breakout performances of Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith, we would have definitely been talking about Martin as a Sixth-Man of the Year candidate. That’s how good he’s been.
But will the Thunder be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor much longer?
Martin his making nearly $13 millionthis season and is preparing to become an unrestricted free agent. Though it’s unlikely Martin receives that much in the open market, teams won’t hesitate to toss $10 million or more his way, which would prove to be out of Oklahoma City’s reach.
Remember, the Thunder were unwilling to pay a bevy of luxury taxes to retain Harden, so they’re not about to welcome the same caliber of penalties just to keep Martin.
Except they may not have to.
“It’s tough. But I think that’s where my personality comes in,” Martin told ESPN’s J.A. Adande. “Just staying level, don’t get too high, don’t get too low, just be confident in what you did over the last eight years in the league. Coming in, trying to fit in and not mess up.”
Martin is having a solid season coming off the bench and he’s averaging 15.0 points, while shooting 43.5 percent on three-point shots. The shooting guard will be a free agent in July and he will likely take a major salary reduction and re-sign with the Thunder.
“When your two big dogs come back in, you just go back to your third-man role,” Martin said. “I accepted it. This is probably the happiest I’ve been in my career since my Sacramento days.”
Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported much of the same as well:
Kevin Durant helped Kevin Martin feel at home after the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden for Martin before the season started. Reassuring and welcoming phone calls from Durant and Kendrick Perkins helped ease any worries Martin had. But what could keep Martin in a Thunder uniform long-term is Oklahoma City itself.
More money. A familiar leading role. Bigger city. All those pluses are likely available to Martin in free agency this summer. But if the Thunder offer a fair deal, Martin says he prefers to re-sign with the small-market winner than do his due diligence in free agency. Playing with Durant and Russell Westbrook is a bonus, too.
That Martin would be willing to take a “major salary reduction” is huge for the Thunder. They’re on a pace to win more games than last season and his willingness to embrace a role coming off the bench has taken a lot of ambiguity out of their convoluted equation.
In Martin, Oklahoma City has found a star-caliber player who doesn’t mind taking a backseat to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and maybe even Serge Ibaka. This isn’t to say that Harden was selfish in his desires, because he wasn’t. But Martin is a seasoned veteran who doesn’t need to be the go-to guy to satiate his ego. He’s been there, done that.
And now he wants to do this—contend for championships with the Thunder, in any capacity.
Regardless of how much (or little) he’s getting paid to do it.
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.