- Bradford Doolittle, ESPN Staff Writer
If you were unaware of any NBA transactions that transpired following the end of last season, the early season performance of the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't surprise you. As a young, great team on the upswing, it only makes sense that the Thunder would continue to get better.
The trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets just before the season was in a way a mutation in Oklahoma City's natural course of evolution. With Harden on board and another season of experience under its collective belt, Oklahoma City was set to be one of the three or four biggest threats to win this season's championship. Kevin Martin was the most important piece acquired for Harden in terms of immediate impact, but he's a lesser player.
Teams as young and talented as the Thunder just don't willingly break up their core. Long term, the Harden trade made financial sense, but the short-term consequence was not knowing just how much of a hit the Thunder would take on the court. And nearly everyone figured they would take some sort of hit. Following the trade, our projections at Basketball Prospectus dropped Oklahoma City's championship odds from 14.6 percent to 1.9 percent.
So far, the Thunder haven't been any worse for wear. In fact, Scott Brooks' current team is better than last season's squad in a number of ways, all of them seemingly sustainable.
Martin has played well. While he doesn't have Harden's overall skill set, he has been able to nearly duplicate The Beard's scoring ability and efficiency. As such, he's on track to be part of a crowded race for the sixth man of the year award, which Harden won last season.
However, the Thunder's early season success also can be attributed to reasons beyond Martin's ability to fill Harden's shoes. Here's a look at how Oklahoma City has been able to improve on offense.