Martell Webster’s season will most likely be remembered with agonizing humor.
His blunder at the end of an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets on February 20th was a frustrating mistake that potentially cost the Wolves a victory when the season still had life. He stole an inbound pass from Julyan Stone with the Wolves down three and just under four seconds left in the game, drove to the basket, and slammed it home. Rick Adelman said it was possibly emotions getting the best of Martell.
Martell explained his thought process as “But what was going through my mind was go to the rim and possibly get fouled. The contingency to that shot was get a bucket, get a foul, they miss free throws and we get another shot. It didn’t work out that way.” By the time he flushed the ball through the rim and the Wolves fouled Corey Brewer, there was only half a second left in the game and the Nuggets held on for victory.
He was the butt of the joke for the rest of the season whenever Wolves and end-of-game situations came up. In reality, it was a microcosm of sorts for how the Wolves played at the end of basketball games. Webster rushed through the motions and tried to extend the game. When the Wolves found themselves in “clutch situations” (plus/minus five points with five or fewer minutes left in the fourth or overtime), they had one of the highest paces in the league.
Considering the Wolves and their up-tempo DNA, it’s possible that was by design. They wanted to continue to run teams out of the building, no matter what the situation. But their execution in these situations left a lot to be desired.
There wasn’t really many clutch situations in which they were that close to having an advantage. When the defense was good, the offense seemed to not be able to match it. When the offense increased as the time ticked away in close games, the defense became pitiful.
Not all of those can be blamed on Martell Webster. In fact, very little of it can be blamed on him. Webster was not good this year. In fact, other than the five-minute season he had in 2008-09, he’s only had a worse PER once (9.9 in his second season) and WS/48 twice (.039 and .036 his first two years) than the 10.0 PER and .064 WS/48 numbers he put up this season. He also tied the second worse true shooting percentage of his career with a 53.3%.
Some of this could be chalked up to frustrating decisions with the basketball. Some of this could be due to the back injury he’ll pretty much have to live with the rest of his career. He’s a lottery pick that has never produced relative to his draft position, but he’s also a guy that can be a valuable veteran in the right role. And it seemed like for most of the season, Webster was accepting of and thriving in that role.
He has young players’ ears and even though he’s just 25 years old, he’s a seven-year veteran that has learned how the league works. He’s here to help the team but he’s also here for veteran stability.
Unfortunately on that particular February night in Denver, Martell will be remembered for not playing with stability or poise. He’ll be remembered for that embodiment of frustrating Wolves’ play at the end of clutch games this year. They made strides, finishing 7-7 in games decided by three points or less. But to be a serious playoff contender, the Wolves need all of their guys to continue to grow.
Webster is a reminder that grit and determination can get you on the court in the NBA. But he’s also a reminder to this young Wolves team that you have to keep your head when the game gets tight.
With just $600,000 of his $5.7 million contract being guaranteed before July 1st, we’ll find out in the next two weeks if he’ll get more chances with this team to learn how to close out games in the future.