Kenyon Martin Jr.
During his first year at the helms as general manager, Rafael Stone hit a home run on signing several prospects who fell under the radar — one of which was Kenyon Martin Jr. Stone drafted Martin with the 52nd overall pick during the 2020 NBA Draft, and his gamble awarded him another valuable foundational piece to use towards a Houston Rockets rebuild.
No player experienced more significant growth during the 2021 season than Martin. The California native began the year as a human highlight reel, showcasing his high-flying dunking abilities before emerging as the Rockets’ top scorer (19.1 ppg) during their final seven games of the season.
Before establishing himself as Houston’s top scorer, Martin had a guaranteed appearance on SportsCenter’s top-10 nearly every night with the number of seven-foot centers he rejected at the rim.
Martin’s most significant growth came in his three-point shooting. During his first 33 career games, Martin shot 32.5 percent from behind the arc while attempting only 1.4 triples per game. He closed out the season connecting on 39.3 percent of his three-point shots while attempting 4.7 triples during the final 12 games.
Martin’s development throughout the season was a testament to two factors that will result in him experiencing similar success on the NBA level in comparison to his dad, Kenyon Martin Sr. By joining the Rockets last November, Martin had an opportunity to take part in one of the league’s best player development systems — from appearing in 10 games with Houston’s G-League affiliated team (Vipers) to working alongside John Lucas during the second half of the season.
Plus, the injuries that derailed the Rockets gave way for Martin to gain major experience as a rookie on a nightly basis.
“I felt the progress that I was making. And I had to make them if I’m going to be out there playing a lot of minutes at the highest level...Throughout the season, I got better in certain areas, but there’s always stuff that I need to work on. And I am going to focus on those things and continue improving.” — Martin
One area of Martin’s game he should focus on the most this offseason is his playmaking capabilities. The ability to have multiple playmakers on the court is a lesson the Rockets should take into the post-James Harden era. And with Houston ending the year averaging the fourth-least assists per game (23.6 APG), it’s going to take more than Kevin Porter Jr. (and presumably John Wall) to fix the Rockets’ playmaking transgressions next season.
The more Martin improves his game as a passer and his ability to see the floor as a modern-day forward, the sooner the Rockets will be granted a ticket out of basketball purgatory.
Martin’s play was unquestionably one of the most immense bright spots during a season that saw the Rockets finish with the league’s worst record (17-55) and one of the reasons why Tilman Fertitta feels “excited” about the future of his organization.
Despite the doubt due to a lack of college basketball experience, Martin proved his talents translated well to the NBA during his rookie season. But he must continue to develop his on-court production to have a winning impact in Houston. After the Rockets’ final game of the season, Martin said his top goal was to win. The 2021 season was the most he lost during his young basketball career, and the 20-year-old forward doesn’t want to adopt a losing mentality.