Per the reality of the ever-shrinking news hole, there wasn’t nearly enough space to really get into the question of Kevin Martin and his role in the Kings offense in today’s story. No such space constraints here, though, so let’s meander a little deeper into the Martin situation.
The question of whether Martin should be more of a focal point is born almost entirely out of indisputable evidence, the fact that he hits shots at a rate far surpassing his teammates in a game where efficiency is becoming more valued and recognized by organizations every year.
The NBA hasn’t hit the level of baseball during the “Moneyball” era in terms of statistical-driven personnel and gametime decisions, but the movement is absolutely on the rise. And if a basketball version of the Michael Lewis book came out, Martin could easily serve as the main character.
The question so many fans have been asking is why the Kings don’t turn Martin loose offensively. And again, the numbers only support the argument. Martin has only taken 19 or more shots twice this season, scoring 35 points the first time and a career-high 40 the second. As the story points out, his numbers when taking 15-plus attempts have resulted in an average of 27.2 points per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the field (99 of 186).
By comparison, Mike Bibby has take 19-plus shots seven times, scoring 30-plus points just twice. Artest has taken 19-plus shots six times, scoring 30-plus just once. Another factoid: While Martin has fallen below the 50 percent shot barrier in a game nine times this season, Bibby has done so 24 times and Artest 18 times.
The deeper truth, however, is that the Kings are a tough team for a young player to have a role of major significance. Bibby and Artest are always going to want touches, not to mention veteran scorers like Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Corliss Williamson. Martin isn’t alone among youngsters looking for more, either, as second-year swingman Francisco Garcia clearly isn’t shy to shoot and rookie Quincy Douby has become more involved of late.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are capable of putting up big numbers,” Williamson said, “and a lot of guys who have to have their hands on the ball to score.”
But the resident wise man acknowledged one main point, that the complimentary players shouldn’t make a habit out of letting the core scorers go too long without looks.
“We as players on the court have to realize when one of your main guys is not getting shots,” he said. “We have to do a little extra to get them going, setting screens to get them open.”
Swingman John Salmons said being a young player surrounded by veterans makes patience a necessity.
“Mike’s been in the league for what, his eighth or ninth year, and Ron’s in his seventh year,” Salmons said. “Brad and Reef and Corliss have all been doing it for a long time. One thing I learned about this league is that it’s about earning your stripes. You’ve got to do it for a good while before you earn that status.”
Asked if Martin growing frustrated is a concern, Salmons said, “That is a concern, but the great ones don’t let it happen.”
As always in the NBA, there is also the free agent factor to be considered. Bibby can opt out after this season. If he plans to test the market, then it’s all the more reason for him to lead the team in scoring for a second consecutive season and remind the league how good of a shooter he can be. And as Bibby said after Artest scored a career-high 39 points against New York on Jan. 2, “You can’t say anything when (the shots) go in,” meaning no one can complain about Bibby’s latest stretch in which he’s shot 54 of 103 over the last six games (52.4 percent) and averaged 25.5 points.
To Artest’s credit, he has been offering some sincere K-Mart praise of late, including saying on Monday that he considers Bibby the top scoring option, Martin second, and himself third. Artest was also impressed that Martin seems determined to continue improving on his defense.
“He’s talked to me a lot (about defense) and I try to help him out, so that shows that he wants it,” Artest said. “He’s out there working hard. He’s the first one in here every day, practice, game day, the first one in the training room, getting treatment. He’s doing what it takes to be a really good player, and it’s paying off.”
Martin said he’s well aware of where improvements need to be made.
“With my on-ball defense I feel good, but off the ball, I’m still learning and I still need to find spots (to help defend),” Martin said. “That’s how I got on the court last year. It wasn’t because of offense. The offense just came along.”
Chances are, it’ll just keep coming. And when the chance comes to see if Martin can produce at an even higher level, he said he’ll be ready.
“I’m ready to try it, whenever it comes to me, if that’s a year from now or later on,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working to become that player I want to be. Right now I’m just going to try to do what I do best.”
-- Sam Amick