Breaking Down Kevin Martin As A Franchise Player

Every championship contender has its separate yet connected segments. The uncompromising rebounders, self-sacrificing passers, and defensive enthusiasts. The creative coaches who know how to play complicated match-ups and designate rotations, the shrewd wheelers and dealers sitting in an office high above the battlefield, and the owners, who seem interested enough in the sport of basketball to actively involve themselves in the month to month operations of his/her team. But the most visible, and arguably the most important, puzzle piece is the guy who grabs opponents by the throat with a dizzying array of unstoppable offense; the fourth quarter scorer, the go-to guy, the One Who Takes The Last Shot.

Last year was Kevin Martin’s first full season as a Houston Rocket. He started 80 of the team’s 82 games, matching a 2006-07 career high in appearances.  Then, he was a 23-year-old in his third season. He saw the court for 2818 minutes and scored 1618 points. Last year, as at the more seasoned age of 27, Martin played 2603 minutes (215 fewer than 2006-07), and scored 1876 points (258 more than 2006-07). Disregarding all other factors such as teammates, coaches, and every other meaningful statistic, these numbers show Kevin Martin’s improvement as a basketball player who’s become more careful in utilizing his moments on the court. His career’s been one of the more unlikely upward renovations we’ve seen in quite some time.

After finishing as the 15th man on a 50 win Sacramento Kings team his rookie year, Martin was the fourth leading scorer on a one and done squad his sophomore season. Things were looking up. A year later he exploded into mystique as his team imploded to embarrassment, doubling his personal production and breaking into the NBA’s respected 20-points-a-night echelon. Unfortunately, Sacramento missed the playoffs, the coach was fired, and the magical late 90′s aura of Chris Webber mixed with Eastern European flair mixed with interdependent teamwork had officially evaporated. The Kings went on to win 55 games the next two seasons with Kevin Martin leading the way—much like a small-bladdered dog leads a blind man through a fire hydrant museum. After bottoming out with the realization that Martin was no longer their chosen one, the team drafted Tyreke Evans and sent Martin to Houston as part of a mildly complicated/irrelevant-to-this-article three team trade.

How accurate it is to say Martin failed as a franchise caliber player in Sacramento is up for debate. Apart from the various injuries he suffered throughout his , his shooting numbers were consistent, comparable to the sport’s best, but most other parts of his game were no where near your typical superstar’s level. His career average of nearly four rebounds a game is half decent, but Martin’s 2.3 assists per 36 minutes does a good job of explaining his subpar ability to create for others. His role is scorer, yes, but nobody wants to be one dimensional at anything, and Martin might be there; he seems unable to do anything but look for his own. (Not to make it sound as if he’s selfish—he’s not—but Martin lacks certain playmaking abilities in his arsenal. He doesn’t directly make his teammates better.

So, can the Houston Rockets win a championship with Kevin Martin as their leading scorer? It’s a tough question to answer, and if you’re Daryl Morey, an even tougher one to ask.

Due to his wiry frame and rare highlight reel appearances, one might assume Kevin Martin garners most of his points from the mid-range jump shot. Not true. Last season he shot 34% from 16-23 feet, which, when compared with other shooting guards around the league with similar attempts per game, isn’t good at all. (Guys like Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, Nick Young, Jason Terry, Sasha Vujacic, Richard Hamilton, DeMar DeRozan, and Joe Johnson all shot at least five percentage points higher.) Seeing him cut down on those might be a good thing.

Last year the most surprising part of his offensive assault came at the rim: Martin shot 70%, placing him behind only Andre Iguodala among shooting guards who attempt at least three per game. He also did this on 55% of those shots being assisted by teammates, a perfect balance of him creating his own shot and scoring within the offense.

For the most part, Martin gets his points from two places that make coaches smile: the free-throw line, and beyond the arc. Last year he tied the omnipresent Kevin Durant for the league’s lead in free-throws made (finishing with six more attempts than LeBron James, and exactly 100 more makes than Dwyane Wade), and third in both three-pointers made and attempted. Everyone else in the top 10 for free-throws made the All-Star team. Martin didn’t sniff it.

If he can stay healthy for the next few years, Kevin Martin will enjoy a prime that should make the public more aware of his incredibly efficient scoring abilities. But as a member of the Rockets, a team dancing with mediocrity these last few years, is that enough? Or does he need to step back, round himself out as a more complete player, and let someone else do the heavy lifting?


Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

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