Kevin Martin is a remarkable offensive player, but this we knew.
“Kevin can fill it up … pretty quickly, and I'm sure you guys have seen that the last few years,” a smiling Kevin Durant told reporters of his new teammate after Monday's practice, and Durant is the guy who has scored more points than anybody in the NBA the last three seasons.
Martin apparently also knows how to play defense, which to this point has been a well-kept secret.
From the outset of this preseason, Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale heaped praise upon Martin. “Kevin's been great,” McHale said Oct. 4. “He's been working his tail off. His defense has been really solid.”
Granted, maybe McHale was trying to shop Martin around the league and inflated the truth a bit, but McHale usually doesn't fib about defense.
On Saturday, the Thunder traded away James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward in exchange for Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks.
In deciphering who got the better end of the deal, critics insist Martin rates well behind Harden in terms of running the pick-and-roll offense and even as a defender, despite Harden being weaned on zone defense until he got to the NBA.
Both Martin criticisms could soon be proven false.
Martin likely will assume Harden's role as OKC's sixth man, entering the game in the first quarter to replace starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha. As team chemistry (presumably) evolves, Thunder coach Scott Brooks in time might choose a different substitution rotation or possibly opt to start Martin.
About to begin his ninth NBA season, the 29-year-old Martin just joined the best team he's ever been on and also has recovered from last season's injuries – inflammation in the right heel and a strained right shoulder.
A revitalized Martin also had a post defender at Houston in 7-foot, 255-pound center Omer Asik, a free agent acquired in the offseason.
Throughout his NBA career, Martin never had such an imposing defensive presence behind him (Yao Ming was injured when Martin arrived in Houston in Feb. 18, 2010).
Asik was a security blanket that allowed the 6-foot-7, 185-pound Martin to tighten up his defense this preseason. Martin has even more defensive backup with the Thunder in Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet.
“One thing I made a conscious effort to do this offseason was to go back to being a solid defender,” Martin said. “I'm not going to be a lockdown defender like Thabo or anything, but just being solid and playing within the team concept. This season I was back to normal, I was feeling great. Here, you've got two great post defenders (in the starting lineup), so that just helps.”
It behooves Martin to embrace defense, because it's not an option at OKC.
“We take pride in defense, there's no question,” said Brooks, beginning yet another rant on the topic. “We take pride in team defense. We take pride in individual defense. That's something where we work with all of our players. We have some really good defensive anchors … but our perimeter guys we expect a level of defense out of them. All the guys are going to have to continue to improve in that area.
“We are a defensive team first, even though Kevin does bring us some good offense.”
To suggest Martin struggles with the pick-and-roll is ludicrous, given his remarkable offensive efficiency. Plus, he has two premier screeners in Perkins and Collison, perhaps the two players Harden will miss most with the Rockets.
“He definitely will be a big part of our pick-and-roll game,” said Brooks, who coached Martin during his breakout season with the Sacramento Kings in 2006-07. “He's a great give-and-go guy. He just knows how to play. He knows how to space. He knows when to get out of the way. He knows how to cut and he gets to the free-throw line at a very high rate.”