The Houston Rockets are coming off another disappointing loss Monday night as the Mavericks beat the Rockets for the third time in 11 days, this time coming back from 16 points down. The Rockets have now lost nine out of ten games.
With losses piling up, you have to start thinking about the future, and that starts with figuring out who can be a part of your team once you are ready to compete for playoff spots and compete for championships. That is what the Rockets need to do now, and Kenyon Martin Jr. is a player they need to take a longer look at.
When you have a rebuilding team, you will have a lot of young players playing significant minutes. That's where the Houston Rockets find themselves, as they have one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. However, even with the Rockets giving minutes to their young core, they still have had trouble spreading minutes to players like Tari Eason, Ty Ty Washington, and Kenyon Martin Jr.
Even with Martin's inconsistent minutes, he makes players around him better when he is on the court. Martin Jr. is averaging 24.1, which would be a career-high but is still not getting the minutes he probably should be, considering Jae'Sean Tate has only played in one game this season. Eric Gordon has started most of the season despite not being part of the Rockets' long-term plans.
Even with the limited minutes, Martin Jr. can change the game in ways that dont always show up in the box score. Here are three ways Martin Jr. helps his teammates on the court.
Best cutter on the team
The Rockets half-court offense leaves a lot to be desired. They lead (if lead is the right word for “worst”) the league in turnovers a game. They are the only team in the league that averages more than 17 a game. These turnovers limit the Rockets' half-court sets and make it difficult to have a consistent half-court offense.
When they do get to run an offensive set, Martin Jr. consistently shows he is the Rockets’ best cutter on the team. Martin Jr. has the ability to cut from the baseline or top of the key, and it usually leads to a highlight reel dunk or a foul.
Welcome to the dunkathon!— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 28, 2022
Featuring special guest, KJ Martin pic.twitter.com/I20ScCwN2m
Martin also does well as a secondary cutter. That is when the play is initially a pick and roll, and Martin makes his way to the basket while all the attention is on the ball.
The type of pressure that puts on defense is invaluable for a team that struggles as much as the Rockets do on the offensive end. Again being a great cutter is not something that will always show up in advance box scores, so it may be overlooked, but it is something every team needs, especially a young team like the Rockets.
Hard rim runner
The Rockets coming into the season, said they wanted to be an uptempo team constantly pushing the pace and putting pressure on their opponents. Well, that has not happened this year. The Rockets are at the bottom of the league regarding fast break points per game. However, when the Rockets do get out on the break, they are at their best, and most of the time, KJ Martin Jr is on the court. Martin Jr. is arguably the most athletic player on the team, and when you combine that with his all-out effort running the lanes, it makes him one of the Rockets’ most devasting fast-break players.
Kenyon Martin Jr. with authority! pic.twitter.com/iRrVi9J9lz— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 1, 2023
It doesn't always end with Martin Jr putting a defender on a poster. It also helps his teammates run beside or behind him on the break. Martin Jr. running hard on every fast break — and opponents knowing how proficient he is — force teams to overplay him and give his teammates open lanes to the basket.
He also gives the Rockets vertical spacing. With Sengun playing more minutes this year, the Rockets dont have a player beyond Bruno Fernando that can play above the rim in the front court. That is part of why the Rockets started Fernando at the beginning of the season because they wanted a lob threat specifically for Kevin Porter Jr. and KJ Martin, giving the Rockets that and much more.
Scoot throwing the oop‼️@Kevinporterjr @kj__martin pic.twitter.com/bzQ0ks6YkZ— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 28, 2022
You see that especially on the Rockets ATO (after time out) plays. Multiple times the Rockets have Martin Jr. cut hard to the basket and jump over his defender.
The Rockets need to explore more, as it can be a massive weapon.
Great weakside defense
Like the Rockets’ fast break offense, the team's defense leaves much to be desired. The Rockets currently rank 20th in points allowed per game, which, amazingly enough, is a miracle considering some of the Rockets’ defensive performances this season. The Rockets average 4.6 blocks a game, which is middle of the pack in terms of the entire NBA. Additionally, the Rockets are not a big team, starting a 6'9” center, 6'10” power forward and Eric Gordon at 6'5” playing small forward.
In only three years, Martin Jr already has a vault full of shot-blocking highlights. Most of the great blocks come from Martin Jr.'s great weakside shot-blocking timing. In addition, Martin uses his excellent athleticism to constantly helps his teammates under the basket. Even though Martin Jr.'s shot-blocking numbers have not taken an enormous leap, his ability to provide weakside help is a significant asset for a team that struggles to get stops on the defensive end.
We will never know Kenyon Martin Jr.'s full potential until or even if he gets starters minutes. With Gordon still getting over 30 minutes a game and Tate at some point getting back into the rotation, minutes will still be hard to come by. However, the Rockets may finally pull the trigger on a Gordon trade, and maybe just maybe, we will see what a 30-minute-per-game Martin can do for the Rockets.