John E. Hoover: Martin's fit in OKC is key to Thunder title hopes
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, February 09, 2013
2/09/13 at 7:31 AM
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Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Martin's fit in OKC is key to Thunder title hopes
OKLAHOMA CITY - Kevin Martin is feeling comfortable with his teammates.
More importantly, his teammates are feeling comfortable with Martin.
Martin has become one of the Oklahoma City Thunder's X-factor players, one of the "other guys" who needs to generate consistent offense for the Thunder to have sustained success.
"We've been playing really well this year, so whatever we're doing right now is working," Martin said Friday as the Thunder dispatched Phoenix 127-96 at Chesapeake Arena. "We just want to keep getting better and keep getting used to each other."
Martin scored 16 points - one of five players in double figures on a night when everybody scored. Kevin Durant led OKC with 21 points, Thabo Sefolosha contributed 18, and Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins scored 17 each.
But Friday was a mismatch. And scoring from Sefolosha (7.1 points per game) and certainly Perkins (4.4) is like candy at Christmas.
If the Thunder hopes to repeat as Western Conference champs and challenge Miami for NBA supremacy, Martin will need to replicate his recent surge in the postseason.
Friday was Martin's fifth consecutive game with at least 15 points, the second-longest such streak of the season for him. He scored 15 or more seven games in a row to start the season after he arrived in a trade from Houston.
During that seven-game stretch, he averaged 17.1 points per game, shot .507 from the floor and was lethal from 3-point range with a .531 percentage.
But then he went through hot-and-cold scoring spells - three straight over 20, followed by 3 and 6, etc. - and his shots decreased. His involvement in the offense dropped off.
"When I first got here, I was on a hot streak," Martin said. "Then, middle of the season, you learn from your teammates and they also learn your style of play. So it's been an ongoing process and you just keep on battling at it."
When the Thunder shipped NBA Sixth Man of the Year and OKC pop-culture figure James Harden to Houston in a trade for Martin just before the season began, Martin had averaged more than 20 points per game in six of his last seven NBA seasons in Sacramento and Houston.
His role would be different in Oklahoma City. He would take a back seat to Durant and Westbrook, the NBA's top scoring tandem, and that was OK with him and everyone else.
So far during his time in OKC, Martin averages 15.3 points per game.
"He's blended in from Day 1 pretty good with our group, and our guys accepted him and he's accepted our group," said head coach Scott Brooks. "I think a lot to do with that is just his personality is easy going, and he's not looking to touch the ball every time down the court. He realizes that some nights he's gonna get more shots than others and some nights he's gonna be the fourth or fifth option. He's accepted that role."
But OKC struggles when Martin isn't scoring. In games in which he failed to score in double figures, the Thunder is just 5-4.
That's not going to fly in the playoffs.
The good news is he may have reached a definable pitch. Martin has scored in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games (OKC is 8-3 in those games) and, better than that, he's been a reliable marksman.
In that 12-game stretch, Martin is making 51.4 percent of his field goal attempts and 48.4 percent of his 3-pointers. During his current streak of six straight games over 15 points, Martin is shooting 51.7 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe.
"I think he's been definitely on a nice little hot streak," Brooks said.
At times, Martin has seemed under-used - ignored, even, as his teammates have frequently selected other options when he's been wide open.
"They see the floor well and they make a lot of passes where I'm not open and they get me the ball," Martin said. "I know when I have the ball there's probably a lot of guys open that I don't pass to, too. It's just the game of basketball.
"Also, it's on me, too, to get in their vision. Because I was always a scorer. ... So I'm learning also, with everybody else, just to find all the spots."
Martin and his new teammates needed a period of time in which they could acclimate to each other. That time seems to have passed. Martin averages 10.2 field goal attempts per game on the season, but during his five-game scoring streak, he's averaging 12.8 shots per game.
"We didn't have a training camp together," Martin said. "Our training camp is mostly in our games, and that's tough. That's tough in the NBA."
Said Westbrook, "He's just finding his groove. When you get to a new team, you've got to be able to find your groove, and I think he's done that the last few games - the last few weeks, actually."
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook goes up for a dunk in front of the Suns' Markeiff Morris. SUE OGROCKI/Associated Press