Last summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves were in desperate need of a floor spacer after finishing as one of the worst 3-point shooting squads of the last decade in 2012-13. The team attempted to fill that void in two ways; they first traded for Shabazz Muhammad during the 2013 NBA Draft, and then during free agency, signed Kevin Martin away from the Oklahoma City Thunder on a four-year, $28 million contract.
Martin was expected to be a floor spacer for the Timberwolves, and his raw shooting numbers from this past season make it appear that that was the case. He shot 38.7 percent from 3 on 4.4 attempts per game, and shot 41.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, per SportVU data. He helped the Timberwolves improve from 30.5 percent to 34.1 percent from 3 as a team, a significant improvement, even if the team still finished 26th in the league.
However, many came away from the 2013-14 season thinking of Martin as a disappointment for Minnesota. While he shot an acceptable average from 3, it was well below the career-high 42.6 percent he shot from outside in his lone year with the Thunder.
He also shot just 43 percent from the field as a whole, far from a quality overall number. In addition to this, he was a negative defensively, and the Timberwolves were only 1.7 points/100 possessions better with him on the floor overall, a fairly insignificant number for a starter making $7 million a year.
This divide in Martin’s production has led to some wishing the Timberwolves could shed Martin’s contract in an offseason trade. He was an effective shooter, sure, but he really wasn’t anywhere near an elite shooter, and he doesn’t bring much else to the table.
However, the major question in evaluating Martin is just how vital his shooting is to the Timberwolves. It’s one thing to look at Martin’s shooting in a vacuum of percentages and numbers. It’s another, and more fair to Martin, to look at how the Timberwolves used Martin, and whether he was effective in his role as a shooter.
First, of course, we have to look at the shooting chart for Martin, via our friends at Nylon Calculus:
Martin’s major areas of attack occurred both at the rim and on the left wing, where he peppered opponents from distance and from midrange. His best numbers outside the paint came from the elbows, where he connected on around 47 percent of his shots, and his 39 percent on left wing threes were also strong.
His weakest areas appeared to be … well, anywhere else on the 3-point line, as he really struggled to hit consistently from the left corner and the top of the key.
Martin’s shooting tendencies also reflect where he’s effective on the floor, for the most part, which is a good thing. Here’s the breakdown of Martin’s shooting tendencies:
Martin took 15 percent of his shots from that left wing spot, by far his most common shooting area outside the paint. That accounted for a little more than 50 percent of his total 3-point attempts, which is good because this was his strongest area. It indicates that the Timberwolves were able to put Martin in places where he would be effective, and he rewarded them by hitting 41.6 percent of his 3s overall from that wing.
However, the other 3-point zones were not so strong, as is visualized above. Martin’s only other area where he shot over 38 percent was the right corner … where he took seven shots, hitting three. His other percentages: 36.5 percent from the left corner, 32.3 percent from the top of the key, and 34.2 percent from the right wing. Truly effective floor spacers are versatile 3-point shooters; guys who can hit 3s at a high rate from multiple spots on the floor are obviously more effective threats to draw defenders away from the paint regardless of their positioning.
For example, here’s Wesley Matthews‘s shooting chart:
Matthews was a 39.3 percent 3-point shooter, so only marginally better than Martin overall. However, the real value Matthews had was that he was effective from both wings and the right corner. That adds more value to Matthews as a floor spacer than Martin has as an effective shooter from one area.
Martin being pigeon-holed into the left wing also presents the issue of redundancy for the Timberwolves. Here’s the team’s overall shooting tendencies:
The Timberwolves took a majority of their 3s from the left wing as a team, and it was the primary shooting area not only for Martin, but also for the T’Wolves’ other two primary 3-point shooters, Kevin Love and Chase Budinger. All three took a majority of their threes from this spot, and were most successful from there.
This decreases the amount of spacing in the T’Wolves’ offense, because all three players need chances from this spot to be at their most effective. This jams up spacing, because opponents studying the tendencies of the Timberwolves know that Martin, Budinger, and Love are going to tend toward the left wing, and will defend them more closely when they are in these spots, and more loosely away from the area.
This is particularly true of Martin; since he was so much more effective from the left wing than anywhere else, opponents could hound him from this area and stray off of him when he was elsewhere. This not only reduced his ability to be an effective spot-up shooter, but kept him from being truly effective driving and slashing to the rim, which is his other strength as a player.
The Timberwolves need effective floor spacing in order to succeed as an offense. The shooting woes of Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, and J.J. Barea are well documented, and the Timberwolves need players like Martin, Love, and Budinger to compensate for them.
Love is a strong floor spacer, able to hit 3s from all over the perimeter at a decent percentage. However, Love isn’t enough, and the Wolves need more than just him.
Budinger’s been injured, so a lot of the floor spacing duty also falls on Martin, and last season, he just wasn’t effective. A new offensive scheme with Flip Saunders may help, but Martin has to prove he can be consistent from more than one area on the 3-point line in order to actually help the Timberwolves effectively space the floor.