Introducing Martell Webster: The Wolves New Sort-Of Shooting Guard

Zach Harper —  June 30, 2010 — 14 Comments

Ben and Myles seemed to perfectly sum up all of the areas, possibilities, good and bad of the draft night; However, the most important aspect of it could end up being the trade of Luke Babbitt and Ryan Gomes to the Portland Trailblazers for Martell Webster.

While the salary cap aspect seems to be a mystery to people it shouldn’t be a mystery to, the talent aspect is very clear. The Wolves are getting rid of a very incredible role player in Ryan Gomes. Gomes is one of those San Antonio Spurs-type of guys off the bench that is very understated but always seems to make the right play. He’s also an incredibly likable person who seems to get what being a professional athlete is all about. He’s one of the good guys that doesn’t force anything with his fame and physical prowess. He just lets everything come to him in life and with a young team it’s hard to imagine you’d want to get rid of veterans like that.

What the Wolves give up in goodguyness (made it up) and basketball talent, they definitely get back with the acquisition of Martell Webster. Martell’s career has been a bit of a struggle so far. After feeling his way from high school to the highest level of basketball competition for two seasons, he broke through during the Blazers breakthrough season as a franchise. The Blazers went 41-41 as their young team (almost exemplified by Martell Webster in a way) started to put the potential into progress.

But after Martell and the Blazers broke out into being taken seriously in the league, he played just five minutes in the 2008-09 season. He was sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot in the pre-season before the season started and then only made a brief appearance in a December game against Raptors before sitting out the rest of the season while trying to heal.

When Martell returned to the Blazers rotation last season (82 games, 49 started, 24.5 minute per game) with a fully healed foot, a lot of the promise he showed before the injury returned. His skill set reads like a GMs ultimate fantasy. He can knock down the three, play lockdown defense against good perimeter defenders and has the athleticism to wow the crowd. And he’ll bring a lot of that to the Wolves.

However, figuring out where Martell is going to play next season might be the key to whether he is successful or not in his time with Minnesota. In case you haven’t paid attention to the Wolves David Kahn five-year plan of forming a full team by drafting just one position each season, year two was the small forward year. Even with acquiring Martell Webster, the Wolves pulled in four small forwards on draft night and a Brazilian center to be forgotten later. And of the four small forwards acquired, Martell is the most likely to be able to play the shooting guard position.

The problem is the idea of him playing shooting guard is sort of a foreign concept. According to 82games.com, Martell Webster played 11% of the allotted shooting guard minutes in Portland during his rookie season, while logging 14% of the minutes at small forward. Unfortunately, that was four years ago and he’s never played more than 4% of the shooting guard minutes in any given season since. In fact, in 2006-07 and 2009-10 he played just 1% of the shooting guard minutes. While it’s really fun to imagine him as a shooting guard because he’s athletic, can shoot and sort of looks like one, the evidence shows that he really doesn’t play there.

And when he does play there, it’s just a small sample size that is all over the board that it’s hard to know if this pipedream of him being a legit 2-guard is… well… legit. Check out the performances at shooting guard and small forward over the past couple of seasons:

It seems nearly impossible to predict that Martell Webster can be the shooting guard on this team based on these sample sizes. Appearance makes him fit the part of the shooting guard role but history says he doesn’t fit the bill. Of course, playing on the same team as Brandon Roy over the past few years makes playing time at the shooting guard position kind of scarce. Roy played 33% of the shooting guard minutes in 09-10, 59% in 07-08 and 42% in 06-07. For Webster to receive a lot of minutes at the shooting guard would have caused the Blazers to put their best player out of position.

But if Roy wasn’t around, would Webster have been the right call as the shooting guard anyway? Last season, he shot 37.3% from three-point range, which is right in line with his 37.2% career rate. According to Synergy Sports, Webster was a 38.3% shooter on spot-up jumpers and a 39.8% shooter on spot-up threes. These spot-up jumpers accounted for 41.6% of his offensive plays that ended in a shot attempt, turnover or trip to the free throw line. While those aren’t terrible percentages, they also don’t make you want to lump him in with the Steve Kerr’s, Reggie Miller’s and Jason Kapono’s of the league. Webster isn’t strong taking the ball to the hole and he’s not a deadeye shooter. So throwing him into the shooting guard position doesn’t scream of guaranteed success.

While this all seems to be a negative case for Martell Webster, my thoughts couldn’t be further from that assessment. The strength of Webster isn’t going to be the offensive production he brings; it will be the defense he brings to the table. The Wolves got killed on defense last year. The perimeter defense was terrible. The interior defense was terrible. The pick-and-roll defense was pretty bad too. And while Webster doesn’t solve all of that, he does provide a lockdown presence on the perimeter that makes the best offensive perimeter forces in the league have to work extra hard.

In most normal seasons, Webster would have been lauded for the defensive presence he was on the floor during the 2009-10 campaign. He didn’t exactly reinvent the way to play perimeter defense but he was a solid road barrier in the way of guys scoring efficiently. Unfortunately for him, he played on the same team as Nicolas Batum who received the highest remarks for his defensive efforts all season (and deservedly so too). Webster is strong enough to body-up the bigger players and still athletic enough to stay with the quick players. His quick leaping ability, quick feet and 6’11” wingspan allow him to challenge jumpers on the perimeter. And best of all, he’ll be able to teach Corey Brewer and Wesley Johnson the tricks of the defensive trade.

Overall, I love the idea of Martell Webster being a Wolf next year, especially when it means having to replace Ryan Gomes. You don’t find many 23-year olds as savvy and veteran (I like using it as an adjective too) as Webster.

Let’s just not fall in love with the idea of him at the shooting guard position just yet…

Zach Harper

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14 responses to Introducing Martell Webster: The Wolves New Sort-Of Shooting Guard

  1. pagingstanleyroberts June 30, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Nice write-up. Although they did it in a way that to this point looks heavy-handed, I think the Wolves did a competent job of going from overwhelmingly negative on the wing to at least neutral. A lot of the people who aren’t fans of the trade over at Canis Hoopus are calling Webster a “Corey Brewer clone.” Based on what you dug up on Webster, how close/far off is that assessment?

  2. That’s good work Zach. I will say, though, that in Rambis’s offense, a player’s offensive position matters much less than their defensive position. As long as Martell can guard other two’s and fill a certain role–run the floor, finish in transition, hit those spot-up threes–he’ll be fine. What the Wolves still lack–what neither Webster, Brewer or Johnson bring to the table–is playmaking and shot creation. This, I would guess, is why Rudy Gay seems to remain in the team’s sights (one wonders, though, how Rambis finds minutes for all of those wingers).

    And your point about Kahn’s understanding of the salary cap, at least in this instance, is totally apt. I wonder if he considered why Pritchard was so very generous as to kindly accept Gomes’s contract as part of the deal? Or considered that Gomes’s early termination clause might look like gold to teams trying to shed salary? In either case, claiming, as Kahn did, that this deal “in effect, was for the 16th pick only” must seem pretty funny to the Blazers.

  3. martell is a 3 not a 2. you won’t lose much by shifting him to the 2 spot but you won’t gain anything either. his handle, decision-making, consistency and ability to draw fouls are not those of a starting quality 2. he can, however, handles 2s or 3s interchangeably on the defensive end. if the offense runs through a 3 who needs/gets a lot of touches and martell plays off the ball, that could potentially work. if you’re expecting traditional 2 things from him, it won’t happen.

  4. As a Blazers fan, I have some things to say.

    First, the one thing that makes it impossible for Martell to play SG are his handles. He just is not a very good ball handler. At all. And it’s one of the harder skills for someone to improve, so don’t expect that to change.

    As a defender, Webster is good when he’s focused. The greatest problem with him on the PTB was his consistency, on both ends of the floor. When Batum was hurt and he got to play big minutes, he did much better. So if you can consistently get him 30mpg, you’ll probably be pretty happy with his production.

    And yeah, Gomes contract was a big deal for us, as it allows the possibility of a MLE signing without going too far into lux territory. So thanks for that.

  5. As a rotation player getting wing minutes at SG and SF, I think Webster is a good addition. Also, you can see what Kahn is going for here. If Rubio ever comes, having a battalion of interchangeable 6’7″ wings–all of whom can shoot threes, perimeter defend, and finish in transition–rotating through the 2 and 3 spots seems pretty ideal. The fact that none of them can create a shot is diminished if you consider that Rubio is probably going to be one of the most ball-dominant points in the league. Probably explains the infatuation with Rudy Gay as well.

    I think Webster does enough offensively to play 15-20 minutes per game at SG in a PG-dominant system. The real question is whether he is quick enough laterally at 6’7″ to guard smaller, quicker twos (or stay on the court when teams go with two PGs, as teams are increasingly doing).

  6. FWIW,
    Webster was supposed to have been a very popular among the Bllazers players and was a joyful presence.
    Brandon Roy said he always counted on Webster telling him the truth about how he was playing.

  7. Re the Corey Brewer clone.
    Webster has a legit 3pt shot and can get hot and rain 3s for a Quarter or two. Webster is not the greatest passer and his handle is very mediocre. He is not a playmaker,but can fill the defensive,floor-spacing,run the court SF/SG role just about as well as anybody.

  8. Zach, great work as always. I can assure you that in the past Webster has done about as good of a job on Carmelo Anthony as a one-on-one defender as anyone else not named Artest or Battier. He has a knack of getting in Melo’s head.

  9. Zach, like the article. I personally cannot wait to see what Martell can do for the Wolves. I just do not know how Flynn or Rubio fit the PG position in the triangle offense, wouldn’t we have been better off keeping Lawson for the triangle and trading Rubio &/or Flynn last year?!?! Also, if we trade Jefferson, what do we get for him? Another SG or PF? (P.S. – Every game I watched Ryan Gomes looked out of place last year, gotta meet him, great guy, but not right for the Wolves right now unless he comes back as a bench stretch-4.)

  10. One video that will get you excited about Martell. He also had the most threes of any player in the month of January before Nate benched him.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMVXnJDBtnI

  11. Blazer fan here. Webster is a 3 (possibly a stretch 4) and really not a 2. Webster’s biggest asset is a prototypical NBA body which he uses effectively to body up on high post/jump shooting forwards. He can even defend low post centers in an emergency, Webster can and does play strong “perimeter defense”…that is, if you put him against jump shooting forwards (Carmelo Anthony/Dirk Nowitzki). However, lateral quickness is not his strength and he would likely become a mediocre perimeter defender if he were asked to cover Monta Ellis/Brandon Roy instead.

    Plus it occurs to me, that with Flynn’s size the Wolves might want to have a wing match up against Deron Williams? This is something Nicolas Batum is suited for, but not Webster whose skillset is for defending the front court positions.

  12. Let me try to clarify Gomes’ contract. Yes, it was voidable, but only until July 1, and at the expense of a $1M cap hit for the next couple years. Had Minnesota not included Gomes in the deal, MN would be on the hook for that cap hit (or they’d be on the hook for 3.5M or whatever he was owed if they didn’t void the deal). And for the record, Portland didn’t turn the Gomes contract around and do something magical with it, something beyond Kahn’s capacity to conceptualize – they just voided the deal and took the cap hit.

  13. I have always thought of Martell Webster as a natural shooting guard. His secondary position is the small forward position. Not the other way around.

    Webster’s offensive + defensive performances are similar at either spot. Mainly a spot up shooter offensively + transition opportunities and the odd cut or drive. That type of complementary offense can be gotten equally well at either position. Solid catch and shoot guy off screens (with potential to improve) which shooting guards get more of than small forwards. Defensively, can cover either wing spot at a high level. No issues there either. The real difference for me is the relative value of his rebounding. In comparison to fellow two guards, Webster is a very good rebounder (5 boards per 36). In contrast, relative to small forwards, Webster is a poor rebounder.

    So, the defensive + offensive contributions are comparable at either position but Webster sees a large bump in his effectiveness as a rebounder as a shooting guard which overall makes him more effective as a shooting guard. Hence, that is the position he is best at.

    I’ve always liked Webster as a big two guard. It’s great to have someone with his size in the backcourt. Gives his teams a lot more options matchup wise and less vulnerable to switches (Webster can switch 1 through 4 comfortably unlike say a JJ Redick).

  14. I can’t imagine you guys aren’t picketing Kahn’s office yet

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