There were critics of the trade that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the season and at first, they had good reason. There's no comparing the talents of Harden and Martin. So, before accepting what the team received in return, fans and critics hesitated to give GM Sam Presti and the organization credit for the trade.
However, the return has been much greater than anticipated.
Martin has been an extremely efficient player during his career, but he has taken it to a new level so far this season. He's averaging 16 points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the floor and a career-high .468 from long range. He's also shooting a career-high 93.3 percent at the charity stripe, ranking second in the NBA.
Compare Martin's stats as the sixth man this year to Harden's last year and they're quite similar.
Harden averaged 16.8 points per game last season and shot 49.1 percent from the field. However, Harden shot .390 from three-point land and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line. He also turned the ball over 2.21 times per game compared to Martin's 1.48 this season. Harden averaged more rebounds and assists, but not by a wide margin.
One reason Martin fits better as the Thunder's sixth man has to do with his ability to play off the ball.
He's not an isolation player. He's great at coming off screens and getting to the basket via back-cuts and rolls. He also takes high-percentage shots and he rarely tries to force things without scoping for different options.
Harden's role as sixth man for the Thunder was a little different. He was great in the two-man game with Nick Collison and he made great cuts to the basket. However, his ability to isolate and drive led to most of his scoring. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook creating off the drive as well, the Thunder turned the ball over at a high rate and never really ran a fluid offense.
Martin allows the Thunder to stay fluid.
He seems to understand his role better than Harden did. Or maybe he just feels more comfortable without the aspirations of becoming the go-to guy. There's no doubt Harden wanted to be a go-to guy, and it affected they way he played the sixth man role.
Now that Oklahoma City and Martin have made it through the honeymoon phase, it's clear to see the Thunder have made an improvement offensively. Last season with Harden the Thunder ranked dead last in assist-to-turnover ratio. This year with Martin they have crept up to 17th.
And although Harden is the better defender, the team hasn't taken a hit defensively with Martin. The Thunder still rank among the best defensive teams in most categories and are holding teams to less points than they were in 2011-12.
Offensively and defensively, the Thunder have become a better team.
Harden is a great player and is one of the best scorers in the NBA. Nobody can deny how athletic he is or his ability to get to the hole.
However, the Thunder are better off without him. Or they're just better off with Martin.
Either way, they are better off.
(All stats via NBA.com and ESPN.com)
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