Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves: The (Possible) Problem of Kevin Martin

I have no idea where I stand with Kevin Martin. It is not his recently fractured left thumb that leads me to say this so much as his general contribution to the NBA world. The injury, along with the woes of the Minnesota Timberwolves, is the current focus. Any time on the sidelines for the starting shooting guard of a borderline playoff team is worrisome regardless of the unproductive nature of the incumbent backups. Still, his broken thumb will keep him out for two to three more weeks, giving him time to recover and giving me more time to ponder his role in the Timberwolves’ future.

Objectively, Kevin Martin is a career 18 points per game guard who can efficiently score from beyond the 3-point arc whilst remaining a relevant threat in the paint. His free throw attempts have been been cut in half since the height of his prime but that is quite understandable for a 2-guard in his 12th season. His shot is ugly and his athleticism underwhelming but his positional nous and opportunism have capably rendered him an effective offensive player.

However, there is a strong disconnect with Martin, especially for his work in Minnesota. It seems initially that his statistical output exaggerates his actual contribution. The passivity that underlies his perimeter lurking does not so much convey the graceful effortlessness of stars nor does it resemble strategic conservation of energy, instead, it paints the picture of a role player capitalizing on opportunities as opposed to a natural creator.

Regardless of whether you side with the numbers or the visual component, Martin is both a difficult man to celebrate and difficult man to truly chastise. His rebounding, passing and defensive work tend to range between mediocre and average levels. Ball movement feels more like a team building exercise with him than a mechanism to place stress on an opposing defense. Yet still, his gifts as a shooter allow him to obtain double figures in scoring on a nightly basis at a rate of remarkable efficiency.

An efficiency so remarkable in fact that Kevin Martin’s true shooting percentage (0.592%) actually sits just a shade behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time career list. More unbelievably, his place of 24th all-time sits ahead of Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Lebron James and even Michael Jordan. I refer to this measure not to suggest that Martin deserves recognition alongside the true modern greats, but to contextualize the rate at which he has knocked down opportunities over the years.

As the Timberwolves’ playoff window finally appeared to shut after the last week’s four-game losing streak, my mind turned to the future and the overall composition of a roster that is prettier than it is substantial. Kevin Martin in particular is locked in for a further $21 million over the next three seasons, which includes a player option for the last year. Six months ago this four-year deal was lauded as a coup for the Timberwolves, stealing away a Sixth Man of the Year candidate from the contending Oklahoma City Thunder. However, as Minnesota’s playoff rivals accelerate into the distance it seems that this win-now gamble will prove more harm than good.

I think that it is a disservice to Kevin Martin to treat the next four weeks as an indicator of his worth to the team; after all, the previous 10 years remain as better evidence of his capabilities. More to the point, this Timberwolves team is not a good shooting team at the best of times, so you’d expect the absence of their 2nd best shooter to be sorely felt. The truth though is that the combination of his age and contract has me very worried at the prospect of his presence on the roster in the (likely) post-Kevin Love rebuild. Is a high volume shooter who struggles in creating his own shot ideal for this team? It seemed a strong fit for this season, but in the NBA the future rarely materializes as fans hope (as we have felt this season) and I would not be surprised to see the affection for Kevin Martin decline quite sharply as he enters his twilight.


Tags: Kevin Martin Minnesota Timberwolves

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