To say the James Harden trade was beneficial for both the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder is a drastic understatement. The initial reaction was “what is OKC thinking?” but now we get it. James Harden has turned the Rockets into a postseason contender while Kevin Martin has thrived a sixth man role for the Thunder, who clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs earlier this week. It’s extremely fitting the Rockets are the No. 8 seed, so the two familiar teams will meet in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs. However, it will be Martin — and not Harden — who turns out to be the X-factor of this series.
During the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals last year, Harden was the X-factor for the young quad. He was easily the best sixth man in the NBA and that’s why he got a max deal as a star in Houston. Harden wanted that money from the get-go following Oklahoma City’s loss in the Finals, so it was wise for the Thunder to bring in a player who was the opposite of Harden: struggling as a star and a perfect fit for a sixth man role with a contender.
Martin has been superb this season off the bench, averaging 14 points, 1.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. Although the Rockets are obviously familiar with their former star, Martin will be under the radar in this series with all the attention on Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That will allow him to contribute at a high level without drawing too much defensive attention. On the flip side, Harden is about to find out what it’s like to be the center of attention in a playoff series and although he can’t be stopped, the Thunder will be able to slow down their former teammate enough to win the series.
That effort will be aided by scoring from Martin, which will allow guys like Durant to focus more on defense, and in turn, that will keep the Thunder balanced in what could be an awkward series if things get testy between former teammates. Expect several strong performances from Martin, including one breakout performance around Game 3 or 4 to tilt this series in OKC’s favor.