Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were taking in Notre Dame's win at Oklahoma in nearby Norman, Oklahoma, when news began to travel across Twitter and across the wire that Oklahoma City traded James Harden to Houston. The news shocked the Thunder, especially so close to the beginning of the season, providing the organization very little time to acclimate and adjust.
In perhaps a big statement of what he was capable of, Harden turned in a torrid start to the season, scoring 106 points in his first three games (35.3 points per game) and shooting 36 for 68 from the floor (52.9 percent). It made Thunder fans wonder if letting Harden go was really worth it and if he really deserved the max contract the Rockets gave him.
Adding on top of that was Kevin Martin trying to fill in Harden's scoring and play-making role off the bench and not having quite the same results. Martin, really playing on his first sure-fire Playoff-caliber team, has not scored less than 15 points in any game so far this season as he adjusts to his role off the bench.
Compared to Harden's stat line last year of 16.8 points per game, 3.7 assists per game and 49.1 percent shooting, Martin's early season stat line of 17.1 points per game, 2.8 assists per game and 48.1 percent shooting looks pretty comparable.
Was trading Harden much ado about nothing then? Is Martin just as capable in that role as Harden was?
It is still far too early in the season to tell, but as Harden's numbers have regressed back to his career averages, the answer is coming into some focus. The trade looks like a wash.
Still, losing a player of Harden's caliber and the camraderie he had with the young core in Oklahoma City is a big loss. While the Thunder continue to play well — sitting at 6-2 and atop the Northwest Division early on — there is no doubt that the transition from Harden to Martin is taking some time.
Since Martin is not as good of a passer as Harden — Harden has a career assist rate of 15.1 percent while Martin has a career assist rate of 11.2 percent — Eric Maynor has had to step up and step into a more featured role off the bench. Maynor is doing a good job of that so far although the young guard needs to continue to do more as the point guard for that second unit.
The Thunder were able to make the Harden trade because they felt confident in players like Maynor and Thabo Sefolosha to up their games along with Martin's usual production in a different role.
It would be too easy to continue trying to find comparisons between the two players traded for each other — Harden and Martin. Statistically, again, they seem like a wash, and the Rockets lack of a foundational player and potentially disastrous free agent spending this summer has clearly left them with a worse team.
While these adjustments from both teams are being made, this feels like a deal that has worked out well for both. Having Harden on the floor has taken pressure off of Jeremy Lin who has struggled mightily in the early part of the season.
The Thunder have tried to move on too, recognizing that there was a personal loss but realizing that there is a professional job to do.
Both teams so far have gotten what they wanted out of the deal at this point. Of course, final judgments cannot be made until the chips come down for Oklahoma City in the postseason and when Houston's final record is completed.