For a guy who dropped 45 points Wednesday night, has averaged 23.2 points per game this season and -- as far as we know -- is at full health, Kevin Martin is not playing very many minutes.
Currently, Martin plays 31.8 minutes per game. That places him 96th in the league, right behind folks such as Travis Outlaw, Kirk Hinrich, Andrei Kirilenko and many, many others. The obvious excuse for this is that Houston has plenty of depth and that Martin doesn't need to play a whole lot of minutes. Which is stupid, plainly.
For one, I'm not insinuating that Martin should be asked to play like Monta Ellis and burn out 40 minutes of energy per night. To play Martin too much would serve to needlessly tire him, because, as stated, the Rockets do have Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger and Terrence Williams, who are all capable of playing the 2-guard. But I think 35-36 minutes per game would be a fair number. Not only would this serve to improve the team's chances of winning, but it would also improve Martin's ability to perform on a nightly basis.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Martin's 45-point performance Wednesday night -- aside from the fact that he only attempted eighteen shots -- is that he put forth his most effective game of the season while playing 39 minutes, after playing under thirty minutes in each of the previous three games.
The argument can be made that fluctuating Martin's minutes from 25 to 35 every few games keeps him fresh for the games that require him to be on the floor longer, but I'm actually a proponent of a different argument: that keeping Kevin on an ever-changing minutes cycle makes it much more difficult for him to find a rhythm on a nightly basis.
Think about it. Isn't it much easier to perform consistently when playing consistent minutes? To force Martin to make changes each game and still expect him to be on top of his game is a lot to ask.
Quarrels with this proposal? Perhaps there can be a few. Martin is still having a great year in his current minutes cycle, and he can be a defensive liability at times. But to address those points, Martin has played at least 35 minutes per game each year since 2006. It's nothing new to him. During his best two seasons in Sacramento, he played 36 and 38 minutes per game in each respective year. And as for the defensive worries, I'm fairly certain that his production on offense outweighs the occasional mishaps on defense. Also, you can't tell me that Budinger is any better at defense than Martin is.
I'm also aware that limiting Martin's minutes can help to prevent injury, but we're reaching the point in the season where the Rockets can't afford to be too cautious if they intend to chase a playoff spot. Martin has never had any chronic injuries -- the games he has missed in the past have been due mostly to freak injuries such as a broken wrist. So I'm not a fan of taking the "safer" road with him, either.
While we're at it, I think we can throw Luis Scola into Martin's boat, as he only plays 32 minutes per game. That said, Scola's case is a bit different, for a few reasons. He's older than Martin, and while he's in great shape, 32 might be an appropriate number for someone who is close to reaching that number in age. I don't think 35 minutes per game would hurt too much, but I can understand keeping his minutes around 32 much more than I can understand limiting Martin's. In addition, the Rockets do have to develop Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill, so that will take a chunk out of Scola's minutes, too. But I don't think playing him for a few more minutes per game would be a bad idea, so long as Patterson and Hill still see the floor.
It's a tough job for Rick Adelman, trying to manage the minutes of both older veterans and younger players who need developing. But it should be an easy call for him to keep his best player on the court a little bit longer.