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2010-2011 Rockets Player Preview - Shooting Guard Kevin Martin

Rockets 2010-2011 Preview - Shooting Guards - Part A - Kevin Martin

This is the long-delayed second part in my pre-season preview of the Houston Rockets 2010-2011 Pre-Season Roster Preview by Position - Shooting Guard - specifically Kevin Martin. (I'm too fried to do the other two now - I hope to write those by tomorrow.)

 Here is a link to the long-ago (in internet time at least) piece on the point guards.   It is pre-season, so there remains a chance the series concludes before the games count.  I apologize to you, loyal reader, for the delay. I've made up for my lack of efficiency by being a high volume writer.

The series attempts to be a non-statistical but reasoned and thoughtful analysis of Rockets players, based on my sense of their play from watching nearly every game last season, and almost every home game with an eye to understanding what I was seeing in player and team performance terms. 

Speaking of statistical analysis, however, it is unclear to me how much the current and welcome direction of analysis can tell us about the Rockets and their performance in the season to come.  Specifically I am not sure how typical forecasting, which relies heavily on regression to the mean, and accurate playing and usage forecasts, can deal with a creation like the Rockets.

In my view (which I did not originate and unlike baseball), roster composition matters a great deal in the analysis of player performance in basketball.  The Rocket roster is so changed, so fundamentally different than in previous years, that I believe some statistical indicators may be mislead if not outright foxed. 

The Rockets future is comprised of so many tangled tails of Boolean logic that it qualifies as basketball "spaghetti code".  Example "If Yao plays 22minutes, then Hill plays 12 and Miller plays 14. " What does this mean in terms of W-L?  Or "IF Yao averages 28 minutes in 75 games, and Martin goes 35 in 73, and Lee goes for..."  Well, keep moving those assumptions around and the mind and the model boggles.  The range of realistically possible outcomes is vast.

I am explicitly NOT saying such analysis is invalid in general, but with player improvement from previous years almost entirely a function of youth, playing time, and re-establishing previous level (if age doesn't militate against it) I am not at all sure it can encompass this iteration of Rockets accurately. 

On to  Martin.

Kevin Martin

A lot about Kevin Martin has been amply covered here, and elsewhere.  I hope this adds something to the conversation, (if only word count).

For such a positive, thoughtful, unassuming guy Kevin Martin certainly generates a lot of controversy.  If you venture over to Sactown Royalty you can read enough pro and con Kevin Martin to fill several anguished, conflicted, days, weeks, months, years of your life.  I've just added substantially to Martiana, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

First off, though, let's get something straight.  He's NOT KMart.  The original and actual Kenyon Martin, aka Kmart, toils on the rare occasion of being fit, willing, and compensated to his high standards, for the Denver Nuggets

Second, who wants to be Kmart anyway?  Kmart (the store AND the original player) isn't doing so great, and was never that great in the first place.  Why on earth should there be two "KMarts" in the NBA?

Third, Martin came to us with a perfectly good sorbriquet -"Speed Racer".  It is accurate, because Martin is fast, is also skinny like Speed Racer, is also is followed around by a little kid and his pet monkey and has a car capable of astonishing technical feats at a very low framerate.  (I refer to the original, the "film" will always fail to exist in my life.)

There aren't other "Speed Racers" in the league and it's far better than the dreary "name derived" monikers that seem to be about the only nicknames left.  Whether Martin has a sweet white jumpsuit and rocks a small scarf is currently unknown.  (By the way, if Martin did the Speed Racer pose after making shots, how great would that be?)

That crucial bit of business out of the way, let's look at the man who would be a champion Rockets SG. 

Martin is generally lauded for his efficiency.  What does this mean?  It means he scores more than an average player would based on his consumption of shots, and possessions.  Like outs in baseball, possessions in basketball are the precious offensive commodity that must not be squandered.  Martin doesn't squander.  By taking lots of shots at either the 3pt line, or the FT line, Martin scores in ways that are very efficient.  He additionally forces the D into foul trouble, which gives a benefit in the form of not only points, but more minutes for typically weaker opponents coming off the bench, who in turn score less or allow more scoring.

Pre-season games are showing me that Martin is a natural fit for Adelman's motion offense and that speculation about him benefitting from their reunion isn't idle.  He's better at this system than one that features Tyreke Evans ISO plays such as I saw in Sacramento last season.  Watching the game from Beijing, for example, Martin scored many easy baskets generated by passing and motion.

Martin is a capable scorer, either off shots, or effective drives to the basket that garner baskets, fouls or both.  His shot may look funky, but I've yet to see it blocked.  He hits FTs at a great rate (I'm picking the Rockets for between 1-3 in team FT accuracy this season).  His height is good, his speed is excellent, he's a smart player and will rarely take bad shots, or make bad decisions. 

And yet.  And yet a lot of people have a lot of problems with Speed.  Why?

Let's take the most common complaints and examine them.

1.     Martin plays bad D.

2.     Martin gets hurt frequently.

3.     Martin is not a star.

4.     Martin doesn't contribute enough in other ways.

1.     Martin plays bad D.  All I can say is, I haven't seen it this pre-season.  I can see where complaints might be generated from his time in Sacramento, but realize the complaints really started when Sacramento went to the wall to rebuild with new talent.  Watching those teams in a very limited fashion I venture to say that recent (until this year perhaps) Kings teams not only seemed just vaguely interested in defense, but offered very few players who could be considered good at D in any sense.  Add Kevin Martin to that mix and the result isn't pretty.

I'm not sure Martin is capable of being a solid defender on an island.  He's not a Battier, Ariza, Batum, Artest, Paul or Pietrus.  Those guys can stick their men without anyone else playing much D.  That does not describe Speed Racer.  As I see it, Kevin Martin is able to capably fit a role in an active defense that offers help to him.  Such a defense plays to his strengths, like staying in front of his man, steals from his quick hands, or hawking the passing lanes on occasion. It covers some flaws, like fighting through screens, or being outmuscled by some opponents and gambling for the big play.

On this iteration of the Rockets, with a renewed focus on D, and legit big men, I see Martin as an average defender for his position, with some upside due to his ability to generate steals in most matchups, and downside from getting burned on steals and lack of ability to guard powerful SGs (of whom there are maybe 3 that worry me and no one can stop them anyway).

2.     Martin Gets Hurt Frequently.  It's true.  Martin has been hurt frequently throughout his career.  Martin is physically slight, and that seems to have lead to injuries.  But let's make a distinction.  None of Martin's injuries have been of the career threatening "ticking time bomb" or "devastates his effectiveness" type. 

Speed's major problems have all been some sort of trauma injury.   So far every injury he's had has been the sort that heals cleanly.  And his problems are not the type that are bound to happen with wear and tear.  They are more matters of bad luck, even if Martin is physically more prone to that sort of bad luck.

Compare that to Chris Paul or Brandon Roy.  These are two excellent young players who may have a short expiration date due to their injuries.  What is happening with these two is eerily similar to Tracy McGrady.  How long do they have?  It's a real question, and one that might scare a team from a very expensive CP3 (see, boring nickname) deal.  They may be able to play around it for years, but their late primes might also be cruelly short, like TMac (and again).  What I do know is that Martin doesn't have that kind of injury looming over him.

3.     Martin is not a Star.  My first reaction is: so?   Martin's baskets count for less?  If he averages 26 a game (and I think he might) he's NOT a star? Stars are media creations more than anything else.  Play well somewhere that gets a lot of notice and you might be called a superstar.  Have the right look, the right narrative, and you're a star (of sorts, anyway).  Play elsewhere, be unassuming and dull, and merely be a real candidate for best ever at your position and no one much cares (Tim Duncan).   

In another example, Dirk Nowitzki has been grinding out top 10ish seasons with the added attraction of being real statistical outlier for his position for years now, but I bet people would tell you Carmelo Anthony is the better player.   Granted, Anthony is not in a major market, but he's been marketable from day one, with his NCAA credentials, fun to watch game and cool "look".  Dirk was a much-ridiculed pick who grew into greatness almost under the radar.

To me this is a better way to assess stardom:  We can say Martin lacks a star's ability to "impose his will on the game".  I agree based on what I've seen, but are we sure?  When has he had the chance to do it in a big time game?  In the absence of evidence, I'll say he lacks this ability, but I am not willing to rule out the possibility.

Even if he proves conclusively to lack this ability, however, there are only a few players who are in my mind the "real stars" in that they can sometimes "impose their will on the game".  What does this statement mean?  To me it means that sometimes the player can take all the shots, force shots, take bad shots, take on the best opponent, and obviously be the player who is going to do everything, without becoming ineffective. 

Hakeem could do it.  Michael Jordan could do it.  Kobe Bryant can do it. ( But Kobe can't do it as well as Jordan, though he cries to the heavens in anguish. Look at game 7 of last seasons finals, Lakers won in spite of Kobe - you can never say that about Jordan, or Hakeem.)  Duncan could (and maybe can) do it.  Steve Nash can do it.  Dwayne Wade can do it (with help from the zebras).  I think Kevin Durant, Paul, Roy,  Deron Williams and LeBron James can do it, but I'm not totally convinced.  Annoyingly, Paul Pierce can do this as well. 

Note that I've just named 10 active players from a league of 30 teams, some have rings, some don't.  It doesn't guarantee as much as people often think.  Some players have this rare, but occasional, ability to impose their will, to dominate, but lack the rings, so it must be their fault.  They aren't truly great, right?

So Speed Racer isn't a star in that way, or isn't yet (here's hoping).  Still, you don't win games because people think you're a star, you win games because you outplay the opponent.  I think Martin has that ability, if not to the degree that some listed above do.

I reject the notion that Houston cannot contend as currently built because it lacks superstars.  I've seen a team with one star win a title here, and I think it's possible to win without any superstars, like the Pistons. Miami may make me look foolish, but Miami is an extreme case, and how, exactly, is one to achieve what Miami has? 

Well, first, you must be very bad at some point and draft a top five player who stays reasonably healthy and doesn't leave town.  Then you must wipe your roster to the wall at just the right time and suffer through a bad year or two (still make the playoffs in the weak bottom rung of the East, though).  Then you have to lobby, cajole, persuade and collude from the Olympic team onward to bring this team together.  Then you must have 3 guys who want it easy, not like Michael Jordan who believed "the harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all".  You won't catch LBJ (boring nickname, also taken by someone far more important), DWade (ho hum)  or Bosh singing that ditty.  Four teams tried, only one got the prize, and of those 3 left over only one has anything resembling a team as a result of the attempt. 

In some ways we have to believe we're going to win despite Kevin Martin's lack of star power because it makes sense, and because we don't have a choice.

4.     Martin doesn't contribute enough in other ways.  This may be true.  His assist and rebound rate isn't terribly high for a SG.  He's not going to run point.  But let's give him a pass on this until we see him for a year in Houston, reunited with Adelman and on a deep, versatile, team.  I am willing to bet that his assist rate improves dramatically, but I also think he'll never be much of a rebounder.  That's ok.  He makes up for with efficient scoring.


All in all I think that Kevin Martin can be the most important scoring piece on a very high scoring team.  He can fill most of your "star" requirements, without necessarily being one.  Like seemingly every Rocket, health is a concern, but I have a good feeling about him, and about the year.  The Rockets are loaded, and Martin is part of the heavy artillery. Maybe this is the year he irrevocably establishes himself as one of the best SG in the NBA.  It's a real possibility.

 Go Speed Racer, Go!