Subtracting Harden Adds Up For OKC

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HOUSTON – Comfortable in a new city and a new role as top gun of the Rockets’ offense, James Harden seems on his way to his first appearance amid the glitz and glamor of the NBA All-Star Game.

Of course, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have already been there, done that, more than once, and will likely return to the Toyota Center for another go-around on Feb. 17. But really they have their sights set only on another shiny object — the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And the seemingly counterintuitive truth is the Thunder might actually be closer to achieving that goal without their former running mate.

In other words: No Harden, no problem.

That is not in any way to diminish the skill and work ethic of Harden, who has been everything the Rockets hoped for and more. He can weave through traffic, find his way to the basket and draw fouls almost in his sleep. He pull up and stab in a 3-point dagger from almost any place over the half-court line. He has been the confident, veteran force who has been able to lift the Rockets onto his shoulders and carry them through fourth quarters as a foundation to build upon while they continue to shape a young supporting cast.

Yet Harden’s departure just might enable the Thunder to become even better and take the last step to winning a title.

For one, there is no underestimating the ease with which his replacement Kevin Martin has slid into Harden’s old spot. He can move without the ball, can score efficiently by drawing a high rate of fouls and is, in fact, even a better spot-up shooter in the Thunder offense.

“To be able to find the open spots in the defense, take a pass and just knock it down is very important to the way we want to play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I was familiar with some of Kevin Martin’s game and knew he was a scorer, but I didn’t really know he was a spot-up guy until he came here. It’s been a significant addition to our team.”

Perhaps more significant, the departure of Harden has forced Durant to take on more of an all-around role in the OKC offense. While his scoring is down slightly this season, his assists and his assist/turnover ratio has improved. It seems he is becoming even more effective as a facilitator, drawing defenses to him and finding his open teammates.

There are still going to be those nights when Durant can and will fill up the bucket for 40 or 50. But without Harden to come off the bench and provide an offensive burst of his own, Durant been much more effective in getting the rest of his teammates — Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Martin — more involved on a more consistent basis. By subtracting Harden from the equation, Durant has had to become a more well-rounded player, even more of a leader, and the Thunder have gone from a three-headed monster to overall better team and

In two games against his former team, Harden has shot just 9-for-33 (27.2 percent) while averaging 21 points.

“James was really good for us,” said Brooks. “He’s a terrific player. He’s an All-Star player. He’s definitely at that level, and he’s going to be that way for many, many, many years. He still has improvement to make in his game and he’s really good now. But we never looked at it that way. We looked at it as whoever we have we’re going to get better with them and move forward.”

No Harden, no problem.

28 Comments

  1. Clifton G says:

    Yes , I agree harden is a good player, but just think, he did not show up when it mattered in the finals. Almost every game came down to the final seconds in the finals. With Martin I believe we would have had a better chance to beat the heat. Harden was not there in the finals period!!!!

  2. Jintan says:

    Harden is better being in Rockets, as an OKC fan I can say that he’s better there because He can grow more as a player there which seems to be his goal in my opinion. Rockets now need to “build” around Harden.

    OKC just need Westbrook to “chill-out” a bit when he goes on his “crazy move” to shoot a lot. They need someone who can tell him “take a breath a bit and then attack more”

  3. kevin nicholls INDIANAPOLIS says:

    OKC will miss harden in the playoffs with his pick and roll and creating his own shot and making plays for others, its just going to put more pressure on westbrook and the bench

  4. Rockstar501 says:

    As a fan of the Nba for 35 years I was saddened by James leaving the Thunder in all my years I had never seen a team so young look so crazy good. I started telling people this group of kids would take the Bulls place as the greatest dynasty in basketball. Now I’m seeing the Thunder looking just as good and stock piled with draft picks galore. Scott Presti is the most dangerous GM in all of pro sports when it comes to vision of talent so with all they got for Harden I say the rich just got a lot richer.

  5. ben says:

    right, they’re a better team without harden. maybe they should trade durant too for a lesser player, if that’s how you get better? LOL

  6. Rocket33 says:

    Does anyone else think a Rondo for Westbrook trade works for both teams?

  7. great fan of all the teams says:

    they should trade martin and perkins to maimi for joelantony and josh harrelson

  8. Bob says:

    Some head scratching comments here. Harden is better than RWB? I said when this trade happened that the Thunder made out like bandits. And, they have. Address a big nasty center that can score, move, and defend and you will be alright

  9. Juan Elias says:

    You can´t say OKC is better with James harden! HARDEN IS BETTER WITHOUT OKC BECAUSE HE IS IMPROVING HIS GAME AS AN ALL STAR , AND THAT HE WOULD´T DO IT IF HE WERE IN OKC !

  10. Willy says:

    How would Scott Brooks not know that Martin was a spot up shooter? What is that comment? Sounds more like a must trade to me and they got a bit lucky?

    • coozy says:

      I thought Brooks’ comment was very strange as well. How does anybody who watches NBA Basketball not know Kmart is a spot up shooter? He was third in 3 pointers made last season..

  11. wuffe says:

    Being a Rockets fan,.. I can only tell you I also like OKC alot. I am stoked that KMart worked great with the Thunder. It’s only a matter of time before you reap the benefits of Jeremy Lamb as well. Good Show… Beat the Heat.

  12. Valter says:

    Thabeet is too clumsy. He will need to work quite hard. Still very raw. The guy entered the NBA too soon.

  13. Hakeem says:

    Harden + Westbrook works not nearly as well as Westbrook + Martin. Back in the days, most of the time Harden controlled the ball. Westbrook played off-ball but he isn`t a good off-ball player cause he can´t spot-up. With Martin RW controls the ball and he is doing well so far.
    I don`t understand why Mr Blinebury talks about the bigger role of Durant. Westbrook is the guy, who fills the playmaking-hole without Harden. Of course Durant plays better but so does Westbrook.

  14. karolisjachimavicius says:

    There was a crack between Westbrook and Harden. OKC’s game was changing when Harden was getting on court, two styles were clashing. He never got used to be the 6th man. And Thunder took the risk of waiting for Ibaka to become the third head thus geeting a front court guy in the three headeary. They didn’t win yet, it’s just Durant and Westbrook are keeping to get better. Kevin Martin still looks excluded but if things will be going the way they went this year, he’ll click in. It is very possible Thabeet will get some sense. But he got tutored by Olajuwon, so he’s allready there, a seven time NBA champion in a row.

  15. REAL_TALK says:

    OKC can’t win the western conference over L.A Lakers, Clippers, SAS even Memphis without Harden.

  16. Sonna says:

    No Harden big problem trust me….. When u take KD which is kinda the head of the snake out to make play for the team,. Nobody can make play for this team when he come to forth quarter when they really need it. Westbrook is good.. But can’t really make play. His a good scorer. I dont see them in NBA

  17. Tom says:

    Hello.
    No Harden, no problem, yes thats true for every one NBA team, but not for Miami. I watched lat match, and where was Perk?
    On bench of course…
    Maybe OKC will make some change with him, maybe Gortat ( PHX ) will be better option for pick and roll??? Perk is no danger in the midle because he is too slow …
    Tom from Poland.

  18. Valter says:

    OKC would dominate most teams during the regular season with or without both Martin and Harden.

  19. Valter says:

    Losing very recently to the champs who are yet very far away from finding themselves, is not an improvement. And the game in question was not that disputed. The Thunder remain very strong, but not better, certainly. Plus, The Beard is more of a PG than Westbrook will ever be, and we are talking about someone who plays the 2. Harden is also, put simply, better than RWB.

  20. MJ from OKC says:

    As an OKC resident I was apprehensive about this trade but I understood they had to do it for the salary cap. I and many other OKC residents now are hoping they offer Kevin Martin a fat contract. Scott Brooks is right, he is a great spot up shooter and that is what we needed.

    It can only be written about so many times how fluidly K Mart has blended in with the Thunder’s system. The results on the court speak for themselves.

    • JCsavior says:

      MJ. I was skeptical about the trade as well, especially being a Houston fan I really thought K mart couldn’t play defense to save his life. As of now it seems to be working well for both teams, but the real test comes during the playoffs.

    • Florida says:

      As a Miami Heat fan, I really love how OKC plays. I know OKC had to trade Harden, but I do not agree that they are a better team without Harden. Harden was able to change the whole game when he was on the court, and share the ball with DuranT that is why Durant’s numbers are down this year.
      This season Harden APG = 5.2 Kevin APG= 1.5

      • Detroit Piston Fan says:

        Florida, you are forgetting that not only did okc get kevin martin, but they got Jeremy lamb as well as 2 first round picks and a second round pick. The Thunder have a better shooter than harden in martin, a prospect who has the potential to be good in this league in Jeremy lamb, gained some money, plus some draft picks and I think we know what okc can do with draft picks. OKC is and will be a better team for awhile without harden.