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.