We’re kicking off our offseason coverage here at A Wolf Among Wolves with a comprehensive roster review of the team from this past season, looking at how each player’s 2012-13 went and what we see for them going forward. One player a day for the next couple weeks, starting with the bench and rolling up to the starters.
Kevin Martin came to the Timberwolves via a July 11th sign-and-trade deal, inking a 4 year, $27.75 million contract, and immediately became the best shooting guard in Minnesota history. For a team that ranked dead last in the NBA in perimeter shooting in 2013-14 and in the bottom half of the league in free throw percentage, K-Mart was a sight for sore eyes. Employing unconventional (though effective) shot mechanics, the tenth-year man from Western Carolina brought a 38.5% career mark from outside the arc to Minneapolis. Between Martin, a healthy Kevin Love and a healthy Chase Budinger, the Timberwolves had every reason to hope their offensive woes would be solved, at least partially, by the sheer force of success from three-point land. Observers also wondered if his ability to get to the foul line (where he converts 86.9% of the time, 24th-best in NBA history) would return after a year of being utilized primarily as a spot-up shooter in Oklahoma City.
The results were somewhat mixed. Statistically, Martin turned in a season on par with his per-36 minute career averages. He scored 21.5 points, grabbed 3.4 rebounds and dished out 2.0 assists on 43/39/89 shooting splits. Over his decade in the league, those numbers are 20.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 44/39/87 splits. On the surface, he seemed like the same guy he’s always been, but once you look a little closer, you begin to see that wasn’t exactly the case.
Martin derives much of his offensive value from his ability to shoot threes and get to the foul line. While he did get to the line at a higher clip than either of his previous two seasons, his free throw attempts per-36 in 2013-14 (5.6) were still well below his career rate (7.0). And despite the fact that he made 39% of his threes, he attempted those at a lower rate as well (4.9 tries per-36, his lowest output since 2009-10). Instead, he took a lot of contested midrange jumpers, often out of isolation sets; among players who tried at least 350 midrange shots, only Josh Smith made them at a lower clip than Martin’s 35.9%. The result was Martin posting his lowest True Shooting percentage since his rookie year.
When it came to defense, Martin was exactly as advertised… he was pretty bad. The numbers say his defensive rating wasn’t as terrible as you might guess and 82games,com asserts that he allowed opposing shooting guards to produce only a 12.8 PER, which is pretty good, I suppose. I hate employing the “I watched the games” approach without significant empirical data to back up what I think my eyes told me, but I feel pretty confident in saying Martin was bad on defense this season. His footwork was slow, rendering him a swinging gate on the perimeter. He was also prone to lapses in concentration, and while I hate summarizing half of a player’s season with a GIF of a single play, what follows is representative of Kevin Martin’s body of work on defense in 2013-14:
Despite his shortcomings, Martin’s future with the Wolves is likely secure – they’d be hard-pressed to move the 3 years and $21 million or so remaining on his deal. What is fascinating, though, is what happens in 2014-15 if Kevin Love is gone. This season, Martin was the clear second option. He attempted the second-most field goals on the team and was their second-leading scorer. At 32, could he handle being the primary threat for a Love-less Timberwolves team? On a playoff squad, he’d be coming off the bench, like he was with the Thunder in 2012-13. If he’s the centerpiece of the Minnesota attack next season, it’s fair to wonder if they would be a lottery-bound.
Most disturbing of all were his struggles as games wore on, especially late in games. The following chart depicts Kevin Martin’s performance in the first halves of games versus the second halves of games last season:
|Timeframe||GP||MIN||SHOOTING SPLITS||PPG/RPG/APG||AST/TO Ratio||+ / –|
|1st Half:||68||1123||44/41/91||10.1/1.5/1.1||1.20||+ 142|
|2nd + OT:||68||1052||42/37/87||8.9/1.5/0.7||1.09||+35|
When you expand the data set to his last four seasons, the numbers become even more stark:
|Timeframe||GP||MIN||SHOOTING SPLITS||PPG/RPG/APG||AST/TO Ratio||+ / –|
|2nd + OT:||265||4020||41/37/88||8.4/1.4/0.9||1.08||+58|
It’s fair to wonder if, as time goes on, Martin’s splits will become more and more divergent. It’s natural for efficiency to drop later in games; defenses tighten up, shooters’ legs and arms are tired, more stoppages in play interrupt the flow of the game, etc. But Martin’s first and second half numbers are so different, it’s worth wondering if he shouldn’t play most of the first half and sit much of the second, especially if there are suitable bench options available.
If the two above tables don’t impress you, wait until you see what Kevin Martin’s crunch time numbers look like. This season, he shot just 3-for-14 in the last two minutes of one possession games, but still managed to score 20 points in 33 minutes thanks in large part to his free throw shooting prowess (he was a robust 13-for-13 in these situations, much better than the 3-for-10 some totally un-clutch dud racked up in similar spots). It’s unfair to put the Wolves’ crunch-time problems solely on Martin. Since 2008-09, the Wolves have ranked 25th or worse in Net Rating in the clutch (defined here by the NBA.com/stats default term – 5 points or less, last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter or overtime). The problem predates Martin’s time in Minnesota. Besides, 33 minutes is not a large sample size. Surely, over the course of his decade-long career, Martin’s production with the game on the line is better than that…
Not so much.
|Kevin Martin, career, final two minutes of one possession games:|
|289||30/113 (26.5%)||8/35 (22.8%)||95/108 (87.9%)||163||6 ASTS/ 14 TOS||-104|
To summarize the above table: a player whose primary (perhaps sole?) value is scoring barely makes a quarter of the shots he takes when the game is on the line. To be fair, he does get to the line at an absurdly high rate in these situations (once every 2 minutes and 40 seconds), but a portion of those trips were earned on intentional fouls as desperate attempts by the defensive team to prolong the game. When he’s asked to create something on his own, and attempts to get to the line, he often fails to hear whistles where he normally would during the game’s first three and a half quarters.
His overall plus/minus of negative-104 is partially reflective of the many bad or mediocre teams he’s been on, but at some point, the results become too overwhelming to refrain from passing judgment on the individual involved; if Martin’s on the floor late, that means he’s one of your five best players. And if he winds up with the ball in his hands, it’s unlikely something good is going to happen.
In the right context, Kevin Martin has value, but it’s unlikely the Wolves are going to be able to provide that context next season, especially if Kevin Love is dealt away and Martin remains as the team’s most potent offensive threat. Context is important – no one should assume Martin is a bad player based on any of the data above. Rather, consider it evidence that Martin can not be the centerpiece of a playoff-bound team. And if the front office stays true to their word and their expressly stated goals – to end the long postseason drought Timberwolves fans have endured – let’s hope he’s not the centerpiece at all.