Kevin Martin plopped down in a plush black leather courtside seat at the end of his team's morning shoot-around on Friday and tried his best to forget his most disappointing display to date in a Thunder uniform.
He wanted to chalk up his performance in Wednesday's home loss to Memphis as an anomaly, a one-game glitch in the system, a system that has seen plenty of success this season. In reality, the questions that had made their way to Martin were both fair and timely.
Martin's disappearing act Wednesday was the culmination of a three-game downward trend in which his shot attempts saw an incremental decline. More importantly, following that 10-point defeat to the Grizzlies, Martin's role on the team, and exactly how the Thunder intends to maximize it, no longer could be ignored.
It took a seven-point output by the Thunder's second most efficient scorer to highlight what was quickly developing into a potential issue — Oklahoma City, despite receiving several spectacular scoring efforts from its new sixth man, had yet to fully integrate Martin as its third scoring option.
Largely behind a blistering start shooting the ball, Martin has averaged 17.1 points through 10 games. He's made 48 percent of his shots from the floor, including 51 percent from 3-point range and 94.5 percent from the foul line. All three are currently career-best clips, which underscores how hot Martin has been more than illustrating how well the Thunder has utilized him.
But in Wednesday's loss, those warts surfaced for even untrained eyes to see, as Martin played 33 minutes of mostly invisible basketball. In a nutshell, his night was defined by drifting around the perimeter, waiting on passes that never came. He took a season-low four shot attempts, and nobody seemed to have an answer as to why.
What's long been clear, however, is that Martin is still adjusting to being the third option behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It's natural, of course, seeing as how we're just 10 games into a season altered by the trade that brought Martin to town. But the goal, which will be a vital one to the Thunder's championship hopes, is to see better chemistry as the games go on.
“Our whole thing for him is to just be aggressive,” Durant said. “This is a different role for him. He's not used to coming off the bench and playing behind two guys like Russell and myself that can score the ball like he can. He's used to being the main guy, so this is a little different for him.”
The truth is this is all different for Durant and Westbrook, too. As much as Martin is acclimating himself to them, Durant and Westbrook are adjusting to Martin. Never before has the Thunder's All-Star duo played alongside a weapon like Martin, who works best off the ball. James Harden could command the ball, call his own number and dominate a game. With Martin, Durant and Westbrook must make it a point to keep him on their radars.
“We didn't get him that involved in the game against Memphis,” Durant said. “If we just tried to find him and run plays for him, he could have really, really helped us and we maybe could have won that game. So that's over with. We learned from it.”
With the Thunder, a staggering 66 percent of Martin's scores have been assisted, by far a career high, according to hoopdata.com. You won't find better evidence of how the Thunder needs to emphasize feeding Martin, and how Martin, at this point in his career, works best when the table is set for him.
“I cannot demand the ball because I'm not going to be a guy where I'm taking horrible shots and killing our offense,” Martin said. “Everybody else has to play their part because I'm not going to be a guy that brings the ball down every time and try to create something. So with me on the court, a lot of it is going to be in the point guard's hands as well, actually being a point guard.”
Hours after sitting in that cushy courtside seat Friday morning — almost anxiously awaiting tip-off to see whether Wednesday was indeed an anomaly — Martin proved what a difference passing can make. He scored 27 points, including 22 in the first half, in a 15-point win over the Hornets. After taking just four shots two nights earlier, Martin needed just five minutes to launch four shots Friday. In six fewer minutes, Martin managed to hoist 13 more shots, ultimately making nine of his 17 attempts.
It was no surprise that 20 of his 27 points came off assists.
The Thunder's ball movement at New Orleans was the best it has been all year, as evidenced by OKC dishing a season-high 31 assists. The rapid passing forced the defense to rotate and often left Martin all alone for uncontested 3-pointers. He made 6 of 11 from downtown, finishing one shy of tying his career high in made 3s.
“It's a fun game when basketball is played that way,” Martin said. “We were up 30 at halftime, and that was the big thing. They couldn't stop our ball movement and everybody was unselfish and we got great results.”
Thunder vs. Golden State
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 679, Dish 416, U-Verse 754/HD 1754)
Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1, WWLS-AM 640
Three things to know
* The Thunder went 3-0 against the Warriors last season and has won six straight overall against them.
* Golden State is coming off a 106-98 victory at Minnesota, where it outscored Wolves 58-22 in the paint.
* This is OKC's third straight Sunday home game. The Thunder has previously lost to Atlanta and beat Cleveland.