Eulogizing Kevin Martin’s NBA Career

Courtesy ESPN

                                                       Courtesy ESPN

Former Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin retired from the NBA on Friday. Martin, 33, took out a full-page ad in his Zanesville, Ohio, hometown newspaper to make the announcement.

In a classy move, Martin also announced that the Kevin Martin Youth Foundation would donate $100,000 to support local youth. K-Mart, as he was known, played three seasons in Minnesota, usually starting at shooting guard, when healthy, from 2013-14 until he was waived late in the 2015-16 season. Below, I pay my respect to the herky-jerky gunner from Zanesville.

A Scorer’s Instinct and a Unique Aesthetic

After averaging 23.3 points per game in three seasons at Western Carolina University, Martin brought with him a scorer’s instinct when he arrived in Sacramento to begin his NBA career with the Kings. Drafted 26th overall, Martin played sparingly during his first two seasons for Sacramento before developing into a professional scorer for some dreadfully bad Kings teams in the late aughts.

For many of us, Martin will be remembered for his ugly but effective jump shot and his uncanny ability to draw contact on offense and avoid it on defense.

First, his jumper:

Here’s an absolutely dead-on impersonation of K-Mart’s jumper (or, “Kevin Martin jump shot be like…”)

Then there was his dribble-drive action. Martin’s funky style was very conducive to drawing contact from defenders and foul calls from refs. Seeing Martin pull off trick shots like this and getting his self to the line was certainly not uncommon.

In fact, K-Mart got fouled at a high rate–especially for a player so averse to physicality on the defensive end of the floor. He finished in the league’s top-10 in made free throws four times—he topped the league in 2010-11 with 594 made free throws and currently ranks 98th all-time in free-throws made—and was among the top-10 in free-throw attempts three times.

Martin’s ability to make threes and free throws efficiently made him a favorite son among parts of the early advanced stats movement. Perhaps more importantly, however, his horrendous defense– which was plain to see when subjected to even the most rudimentary eye test—was difficult to factor in to these statistics, serving as an “Exhibit A” of sorts for those who advocated the need for better defensive and integrated metrics in addition to iterating between advanced statistical analytics and good ol’ basic scouting.

Giving Back (on Defense)

Indeed, Kevin Martin was never known for his interest in or ability to play defense. In fact, to the extent that Martin’s defensive reputation preceded him, it was for being perhaps the NBA’s absolute worst defender.

Martin’s aversion to defense, and his toughness in general, became something of a meme among Wolves fans, including my and fellow AWAW writer Andy G’s Twitter account. To us, Martin represented the basketball equivalent of fictional Cleveland Indians third-baseman Roger Dorn, as played by Corbin Bernsen, in the classic movie Major League.

After Martin retired on Friday, we thumbed out one final “in memorium” tweet to celebrate K-Mart’s “Dorn-ness.”

Martin’s Timberwolves Tenure

The Wolves acquired Martin on July 11, 2013 in a three-team deal in which OKC traded K-Mart and cash considerations to the Wolves; the Bucks dealt Szymon Szewczyk to OKC (Editor’s Note: I’ve never heard of Szymon Szewczyk either, but am digging on his “Sz Sz” initials and alliteration.); and the Wolves dealt Luke Ridnour and a 2014 second-round pick (which turned into Johnny O’Bryant) to the Bucks.

Martin was expected to be the scorer and long-range threat the Wolves needed to complement Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio in Rick Adelman’s corner offense. After all, Martin had already demonstrated an ability to put up numb#rs in exactly this role whilst playing for Adelman in Sacramento and Houston.

Bleacher Report’s Dylan Murphy, in an article entitled “Breaking Down Why Kevin Martin Is a Perfect Fit for Rick Adelman’s Timberwolves,” lavished praise on the fit of Martin in Adelman’s system:

Adelman’s corner system is all about freedom and creativity. While there are certainly parameters of movement and starting points for the system, it’s more of a read-and-react style. Because Martin is such a versatile offensive player, Adelman is able to plug him into any part of the offense seamlessly. And thanks to his high offensive IQ, he’s able to handle multiple roles with ease.

But more than that, he’s able to put the ball in the basket. This is a skill Minnesota has sorely lacked on the perimeter, whether it’s shooting or dribble drives. Often times an offensive set breaks down, there’s an opportunity transition or it’s late in the shot clock and someone needs to score. Martin is the man for the job, and it’s a role he has fulfilled for his entire career.

In 2013-14, the only season Martin played for Adelman in Minnesota, the team went 40-42. Martin averaged 19.1 ppg in 68 games (Editor’s Note: Martin missed parts of February and April with thumb and foot injuries), good for second on the team behind Kevin Love’s grown-man 26.1 ppg.

That season, Martin shot 38.7% from distance and 89.1 % from the line. His offensive rating (110) outpaced his defensive rating (109) and his 16.3 player efficiency rating (PER) was above the league-average of 15.

The bottom fell out for Martin and the Wolves in 2014-15. Rick Adelman retired. New coach and front office boss Flip Saunders drafted and developed an infatuation with Zach LaVine. A #Tanking4Towns campaign commenced shortly after the beginning of the season. Martin played only 39 games on the season. 2014-15 was not only the year K-Mart checked out as a Timberwolf, but his own words indicate that he never really checked in in ‘Sota.

Covering Wolves Media Day in 2014, Britt Robson recounted Martin’s lackadaisical attitude toward defense:

The most revelatory comment of the entire Media Day sessions was issued by Kevin Martin, who said, more than once, that he hasn’t delivered a maximum effort the past few years.

Specifically, in a reference to Saunders replacing Rick Adelman, Martin said, “Flip is more demanding. I’m not going to get away with the things I got away with last year…not get by on talent…it is good to see him hold me accountable.” Earlier, he confessed that he had been “riding the coat tails of superstars” like Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City and Kevin Love of Minnesota “the past three or four years,” and again said, “I can’t get away with things I have gotten away with before.”

Playing for his third Wolves coach—Sam Mitchell–in his third season in ‘Sota, Mitchell went full youth movement in 2015-16. LaVine settled in as the team’s starting shooting guard, Martin was unhappy, and the Wolves finally waived Martin on March 1.

In his three seasons in ‘Sota, Martin played in 146 games, started 116, and averaged 17 points, 3 boards, and 2 assists per game. Suffice it to say that things didn’t work out as planned or hoped, but it was a time.

Saying Goodbye

Ultimately, Kevin Martin’s career ended with a whimper. He was picked up by the Spurs in mid-2016 and played in 16 games and averaging 6.2 points in 16 minutes for the Spurs after signing with San Antonio in mid-March and racking up DNPs in the playoffs, which culminated in a Spurs second-round loss to the OKC Thunder.

Despite often wishing for a better, and cooler, version of the Kevin Martin than the one we had in Minneapolis, the dude was a truly unique player. The NBA will be a little less quirky without him.

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2 Responsesso far.

  1. Basketball was a simple game. Make layups and prevent layups. The top teams understand that concept even today. To make the game more interesting, the lane is wider now, and the shot clock and three-point line were added. Wonderful shooters like Kevin Martin came along and added great value and interest. But make no mistake, soft basketball doesn’t produce championships. When I think of championship teams, I go back to defensive-minded Slater Martin at the point and George Mikan in the post. The Minneapolis Lakers dominated. Bud Grant called Mikan the most competitive person he has known. Jump forward in time to another tough guy/penetrator at point, K.C. Jones. He played with goal tender Bill Russell at center. Those two won two NCAA titles together and numerous championships with the Celtics. Today’s young Timberwolves need to pay less attention to the Kevin Martins in the NBA and more to the penetrating point guards and trim protectors. Tough guys win.

  2. Tom says:

    KAT realized how bad he played against Jazz and took ownership of the loss and went out and played like a beast against the Knicks. Thibs was not happy with KAT’s comments, saying we win as a team and lose as a team. To prove it, he watches his team come back from 17 points in the 4th Quarter, on the back of KAT and Wiggins D and then with 2.3 seconds left, down by two, inexplicably uses both timeouts to draw up this “amazing” in-bounds play that didn’t even get run, because Zack couldn’t get the ball into a teammate and the game ended.

    Hey Coach: Basketball 101, when you have two timeouts. Use the first to draw up a play. If it isn’t there, the guy with the ball calls timeout and you draw up another play. Great teams will even throw a first look at the Defense, call the last time out and then run a similar looking play that decoys the D and gets someone open. What happened was so embarrassing, my hope is that you blame the loss on yourself and then like KAT actually run a team like the premier coach we were led to believe you are and lead the team to a victory at MSG.

    The Knicks are a team made for the Wolves to get healthy on, but Thibs is a mastermind at getting as little out of his team as possible. His bench has now become a collection of misfit toys, players that look shell-shocked out there and offer little or no support for the starters. Yes, they have little defense out there, but at least last year, they played offense with energy and forced the other team to at least keep up with them. The starters still try to do to much jump shooting and not enough extra passing, but they did tie the game up and they needed a coach that could bail them out with skill and years of experience with these type of last second shots. What they got was someone as panicked as they were and he cost them a chance to win and let starving fans go home a taste of last second heroics in their mouths.

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