For Kevin Martin, playing last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder was both an adjustment and an education.
He got to watch Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, close-up. He got to witness what it’s like to spend a season under the spotlight as a part of a team with great expectations. And he brought that education with him to Minnesota when he signed her as a free agent last summer.
“They had a family-type atmosphere in that locker room,” Martin said. “You go in there, and you fit into that family and they accepted you as long as you came in and did your work. It was fun.”
In just his second game with the Timberwolves Martin will get a look at his old team. The Thunder — which got 42 points from Durant in an opening-night victory in Utah Wednesday — will be at Target Center Friday night.
For Martin, it will not be an emotional reunion. He was there just one year. But it brought an opportunity to talk about what his time there taught him. Martin, in his 10th season, has been a steady-scoring starter at shooting guard since his second season in the league. But, traded from Houston to Oklahoma City in the James Hardin deal before last season, he had to adjust to coming off the bench as a reserve on a star-studded team. He also got a look at what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Martin had been a part of only two playoff teams in his career before last season, in which the Thunder won 60 games; the team’s playoff run was cut short after Westbrook’s knee injury.
He marveled at Durant’s ability to handle the pressure of being an NBA superstar, at how hard Durant and Westbrook worked.
“We’d have an 11 o’clock practice and they’re out there getting a workout in at 8:30,” Martin said. “They get their work in, and they hold everybody else accountable.”
It is a mind-set Martin is trying to help create here.
Martin was signed to give the team a much-needed — and sizable — scoring threat from the shooting guard position. In a season-opening victory over Orlando, he showed signs of both his potential and his toughness.
Martin scored 23 points, but struggled with his shot and his aggressiveness at times. Just 4-for-17 from the field through four quarters, Martin shrugged that off to score seven of his team’s 17 points in overtime in the 120-115 victory.
“That’s what makes you a 20-point scorer in this league,” he said. “You forget about the ones before. But your teammates, they have a lot of faith in you to get ’em over that hump. There are times in the game when things might not be going well for you. But as long as there is time on the clock, there is time to get through it.”
Martin saw that in Durant and the Thunder every night last season. And one he sees could happen here.
“It’s about doing your business every day, bonding together as a team and having those championship aspirations,” Martin said. “It takes a lot of bonding to get to that. It’s not all about talent. It better be both on and off the court to get to the places we want to be.”
Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he thought Martin got a bit tentative when his shots stopped falling Wednesday. But he liked how Martin got past that and became aggressive in the overtime.
Ideally, Martin will give the Wolves another go-to player, both at crunch time and in the locker room.
“The first key for us is establishing that family-type of atmosphere in the locker room,” Martin said. “You don’t let anybody come into the room and try to break it. I think we’re doing a good job of that. But it’s a long process. So we’ll see how it goes.”