There are many factors why Kevin Martin's transition with the Thunder has gone so smoothly. The biggest reason has been Martin himself — his talent, his knowledge, his commitment, his unselfishness, his demeanor.
And, perhaps above all else, his happiness. Good luck trying to wipe the smile off Martin's face.
“I've got an easy life right now,” said Martin, seemingly somewhat embarrassed to admit it.
Martin is averaging 16.0 points, shooting 93.3 percent from the free-throw line (second in the league) and 46.8 percent from 3-point range (sixth). Playing the role of OKC's top reserve, he is averaging 29.7 minutes on a team that owns the NBA's best record (19-4) and longest winning streak (10).
Not a bad start for a guy who joined his new teammates just five days before their season opener.
The Thunder obtained Martin, rookie guard Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick from the Houston Rockets in exchange for reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, plus center Cole Aldrich, guard Daequan Cook and forward Lazar Hayward.
Harden averaged 16.8 points last season with the Thunder and Martin is just 0.8 behind that clip. In the scoring column, it's essentially a wash, which rarely occurs when you've just traded away a player who's a candidate for max money.
Harden quickly accepted a five-year, $80-million maximum deal with the Rockets. Martin is in the final year of a contract that pays him $12.94 million this season.
In his eight seasons, Martin's ability to get to the free-throw line has made him one of the NBA's most efficient players, scoring many points on few field-goal attempts.
But while driving hard to the basket at 185 pounds, Martin took physical beatings with the Sacramento Kings (2004-10) and Rockets (2010-12) while being rewarded with just one playoff season (2005-06).
“I'm just enjoying life right now,” Martin said, “and my body's loving it.”
Obviously, Martin's new teammates and coach also played a role in his seamless entry. Opponents have left Martin in order to help out defenders doing their darndest to corral Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“They realize they've got to pick their poison on this team, especially if Russ is at the 1 (point guard), I'm at the 2 (shooting guard) and KD's at the 3 (small forward),” Martin said. “Sometimes they'll leave KD, which you don't want to do, and sometimes they'll leave me or Russ.”
What matters most, of course, is the bottom line — winning. After losing two of its first three games this season, OKC has since gone 18-2.
While Martin credits Durant and Westbrook, they point their finger right back at Martin.
“We had guys already established. We already had our team set,” Durant said. “To step into a sixth-man role after being a starter for so long, that speaks volumes on how professional he is. He has embraced his role and he knows we need him to be aggressive. … I always respected K-Mart, how he approached the game, how efficient he was.”
Westbrook said Martin's even-keel calm has been a key ingredient. “He has played the game a while,” Westbrook said. “He knows what it takes to win. Him coming here was an easy transition, I think for all of us. It's been easy, man.”
Coach Scott Brooks was no stranger to Martin, having worked with him as an assistant coach with the Kings for one season.
“He's fit in very well because of his personality,” Brooks said. “He's an easy going guy. He's just a good guy. Our guys really enjoy being around him. He has good experience and I think it's a good mix with our guys.”
Brooks and Co. repeatedly preach they are nowhere near the finished product. At times, the Thunder has looked brilliant this season. On rare occasions, it has looked horrid.
One such occurrence was last Wednesday night's survival mission at home against the 5-15 New Orleans Hornets, currently the worst team in the Western Conference. The Thunder scored season-lows in the first quarter (17) and a half (36). OKC shot 30.6 percent from the field and 0 for 3 from 3-point range before intermission. Westbrook was 2 for 11 and Martin was 1 for 6.
“I had never seen us as a team just be so bad on offense,” Martin said. “Usually, it might be one or two guys. I've never seen how it was in the first half.”
During one second-quarter sequence, Martin missed badly on a 3-pointer from the left wing and Durant's facial expression seemed to say, “Wow, even Kevin Martin can't hit a shot.”
Eventually the Thunder heated up and won 92-88. Martin shot 4 for 6 from the field after halftime and finished with 17 points. The manner in which the Thunder endured that night has made the smile on Martin's face stretch even wider.
“I didn't realize how easy it was until I look up and you know you don't have to play great to win, and you're (19-4),” Martin said.