OKC Adjusting To New Sixth Man

BROOKLYN – Shooting 48 percent from 3-point range and getting to the line 45 times for every 100 shots he takes from the field, Kevin Martin has been the Oklahoma City Thunder’s most efficient scorer. More important, the Thunder have been terrific offensively, scoring 115 points per 100 possessions, with Martin on the floor. And they’ve been pretty good defensively too, allowing just 100.

But Martin is a different player than James Harden, and the Harden-for-Martin swap has forced Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make some adjustments to his rotation.

Last season, Brooks rarely staggered Kevin Durant‘s and Russell Westbrook‘s minutes. The two Thunder stars basically entered and exited the game together. Of Durant’s 2,546 minutes, 89 percent were played with Westbrook on the floor. And of Westbrook’s 2,331 minutes, 97 percent were played with Durant on the floor.

Most teams will stagger the minutes of their two best players more, so that at least one of them is on the floor at all times. For instance, Chris Paul played just 85 percent of his minutes with Blake Griffin last season, while Griffin played just 78 percent of his minutes with Paul.

Of course, the Clippers didn’t have Harden, who gave Brooks the ability to rest his two All-Stars together. And really, Harden carried the Thunder offense by himself more than Durant or Westbrook ever did. Harden played 464 minutes with neither Durant or Westbrook on the floor last season, while Durant played just 38 minutes all season with neither Harden or Westbrook on the floor, and Westbrook played just 13 minutes with neither Durant or Harden.

That 464 minutes translated to about 7 1/2 minutes per game. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s surely enough to swing a game in the wrong direction if a team’s second unit can’t hold its own.

The Thunder’s second unit more than held its own. In fact, the OKC offense was more efficient in those 464 minutes (109 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was overall (107). That helped alleviate the fact that their starting lineup wasn’t very effective as a unit.

This season, while Martin has been efficient himself, the Thunder offense has not been very good when he’s on the floor without Durant or Westbrook. And the defense has been worse.

Thunder efficiency with Durant and Westbrook on the bench

Season, player on floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
2011-12, Harden on floor 464 89.8 109.1 101.9 +7.3 +43
2012-13, Martin on floor 106 97.6 96.0 110.4 -14.4 -34

Through Tuesday, 12/5
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

This is where the difference between Harden and Martin comes into play. Harden is more of a playmaker. He controls the ball, creates offense, and can carry the second unit without help from Durant or Westbrook.

Martin is not that kind of player. He’s more of an off-the-ball scorer and needs plays to be created for him. Only 50 percent of Harden’s buckets were assisted last season, while 68 percent of Martin’s have been assisted this year.

Brooks recognizes this and has changed his substitution pattern a bit. He’s been taking Durant out a little earlier in the first quarter (at the 3:23 mark on Tuesday in Brooklyn), so that KD can start the second quarter back on the floor. In fact, Durant has played the entire second quarter in nine of the last 10 games.

The result has been fewer minutes for Martin on the floor without Durant or Westbrook, just 4.9 per game over those last 10 games, down from 6.3 in the first nine. Of course, those minutes have still been bad for the Thunder. They’ve been outscored by 39 points in the 49 minutes total. So further adjustments may be needed.

11 Comments

  1. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    How about we look at a stat that ESPN Sportscenter recently showed after Friday’s Thunder-Laker game? When Kobe Bryant gets 30 or more PPG, the Lakers have a winning percentage that is what? .118? Something terrible like that? Do you Laker fans really believe this will change as the season progresses? Congrats to Kobe for reaching the 30,000 point club, but he is a MINUS player this season. And he will continue to be a MINUS player if he keeps going after individual goals instead of TEAM goals!!!! The Lakers will deteriorate more and more. Howard is going to want out the first chance he gets — he can be a “MAX” player if he is, perhaps, the #1 option, not the #2 option behind a ball-hogging maniac.

  2. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Westbrook is dropping dimes like crazy (not at Rondo-levels, however). Heh. BTW, what is Kevin Martin’s PPG per 48 minutes? I bet it’s pretty darn good. See how OKC is one of the best offensive NBA teams? Kevin Martin is getting great, open looks which has enabled him to increase shooting percentages. Probably the first time in Martin’s career that this has happened for him. He doesn’t mind at all being the “# 3″ option. He wants to win, and he will win … a lot with the Thunder.

  3. YearZeroNIN says:

    I can’t believe Schuhmann is still using OffRtg, DefRtg, NetRtg. It’s like he can’t help himself. He’s obsessed with this manufactured statistic that ultimately doesn’t seem to mean anything. ROFLMAO!!! Per 100 possessions? Give me a break. Is that even an official stat the NBA ever uses? How accurate is that anyway? Does that factor in turnovers and points off turnovers, which can confuse how many actual possessions teams get in a given game? Don’t tell me you only factor in 24-second shot-clock half-court possessions! Do you factor in fastbreaks?

  4. Kamote says:

    A large part of this problem is that Harden is also a playmaker as compared to Martin. Even without Westbrook or Durant, Harden can still make his team mates score while being the focal point of the bench’s offense. As for Martin, once KD and Westbrook sit, the opponents’ defense focuses on him, and he would only be effective if he has another scorer to play along with.

    • slider821 says:

      Not necessarily, Martin was the main scoring option on Houston and the primary target for defenders. On OKC, he’s only that main target against opponents second unit. If he was able to handle being the main target against Houstons opponent’s starters, he can handle being the main targets against OKCs opponent’s second unit.

      • Kamote says:

        He was a volume shooter, but Scola was the effective scorer in Houston during their time. Kyle Lowry (and Dragic as his sub) was also a part of that team, and he too was a scorer for the Rockets. Martin wasn’t the focal point of the Houston’s offense before, he just shoots a lot of shots. Now that being said, he’d be a more effective 6th man if he can get the bench unit more involved by starting to make plays for them, as what Harden was doing when he was with the Thunder.

    • YearZeroNIN says:

      Testing. 1-2-3. Does this go through? Testing. 1-2-3.

    • YearZeroNIN says:

      Kamote, sorry to break this newsflash to you (in case you haven’t noticed), fella. I don’t know. Do you only look at John Schuhmann’s posts??? I know I probably wrote this before somewhere on the internet, but let me remind you. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are similar type of playmakers/scorers. Losing Harden has not hurt OKC at all. Westbrook just takes on more ball-handling responsiblities (just like what Magic Johnson said [I think at halftime] during Friday’s Thunder-Laker game). Do some of you people actually watch any NBA games or listen to prominent NBA veterans/announcers????

  5. mark says:

    It is good for the Thunder that Brooks has made adjustments. Even though Martin wants to stay with the Thunder, I don’t see them paying him enough to stay. It is likely that he will be traded by the deadline, if a deal to keep him hasn’t occured by then.

    • KC says:

      Don’t be too hasty. Of course I don’t know what K Mart specifically is thinking, but a lot of players value winning over the absolute maximum paycheck. Some players are even willing to take a bit of a pay cut to be on a winning team. OKC looks strong, maybe the strongest team out in the West right now. That has got to figure into his decision making process.

      • slider821 says:

        that and Martin is not a max player and I doubt he’s delusional enough to think he is. He’s a role player on this team and should get paid accordingly. Regardless, OKC won’t offer him what they offered Harden so the decision to stay or go will be entirely on him. OKC has the money now that Harden turned the offer down so they will give Martin a reasonable offer.