How would you describe Kevin Martin’s shot?
However you want to label it, one thing’s for sure: It’s not normal. It’s a sidewinding push shot that looks more like something you’d see from a rec league game and not the NBA.
But if it works, it works. And for Martin, it works.
For his career, he’s averaged 18.4 points per game on solid percentages. He’s had massive games, including 45 points on just 18 shots, 50 on 22 or even 32 in a single half. Martin is probably the poster child for scoring efficient in the league, a guy that understands a good shot as well as anyone, a player that plays within the flow of the game. And a guy that can completely fill it up, all with that funky motion.
So how did that technique start?
“I don’t really know,” Martin said. “I just started out at a younger age shooting the ball. I was playing with a lot of older people when I was little so I couldn’t go inside so I had to stay all the way on the outside, probably at about 65 pounds then, so I had to throw the ball up there pretty hard. So it probably just came from there.”
As you might assume, a lot of coaches tried to mess with Martin’s form. “About a hundred of them. And about a hundred of them failed,” he said. “It’s just about repetition and doing something the same way and you’ll get good at it.”
That repetition idea came from one coach Martin’s worked a lot with, David Thorpe. Thorpe, a regular contributor to ESPN.com as well as the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, FL, has worked with Martin for years and wasn’t one of the hundred that tried to mess with him. Instead, the plan was just to perfect it.
“With Kevin, we looked at him and just said, ‘it’s how you’re built young man and it’s how you’ve always shot and to blow that up is to not understand shooting.’ It’s something you don’t do,” Thorpe said by phone. “If you’ve got a big thing of clay, you can tear everything off and rip it apart and build or you can shape it. And I’ve always been a shaper.”
Said Martin: “It’s just all about repetition. You do that form so many times and you’ll get used to it. [Thorpe's] biggest thing is the ending point. My ending point looks like everybody else’s. It’s just the beginning that throws the people off a little bit.”
When the Thunder made the trade moving James Harden to Houston primarily in exchange for Martin, two thoughts ran through most Thunder fans’ minds: a) Oh crap, we lost James Harden and b) we replaced him with the guy who has the funky shot? And it seems that after four games where it’s obvious that Martin can not only play, but fit exceptionally well with Durant and Westbrook, moving on from that initial shock of losing Harden is starting to disappear.
That was really the shame in the trade. Everyone, myself included, completely undersold Kevin Martin. It was entirely about losing Harden and less about acquiring Martin. For a lot of reasons, rightfully so, but at the same time, it’s not like the Thunder brought in some scrub. They brought in maybe the most efficient scoring guard in the league who has been trying to carry offenses on his own the last six years and paired with the two best players he’s ever played with. The sample size is small, but Martin’s knocking down 51 percent from the field and better than 60 percent from 3.
“Part of it is he’s less guarded than he’s been the last seven years of his career. I’ve never seen him this open,” Thorpe said. “He’s really good at throwing the ball in, especially when he has the space and time because he’s playing with Westbrook and Durant.”
One theory I had with Martin is that because of his low release point, it causes him to have more space than the regular player, meaning he doesn’t have the luxury of forcing fadeaway jumpers in traffic. He needs the space to shoot so by default, he’s almost always taking clean, open shots. Thorpe didn’t really buy that.
“He shoots over guys all the time,” Thorpe said. “Because he’s 6-foot-7.”
It’s easy to forget Martin’s size because he’s not really a high-flying player that explodes in the lane. He’s an extremely cerebral scorer that works angles and reads defenders. Thorpe said that Martin “understands angles, maybe better than anyone in the league.” And it’s obvious. Because he’s unorthodox, he’s been forced to play the game as much in his mind as with his skill. But in the end, it always comes back to talent. If Martin didn’t have ample amounts of it, it wouldn’t matter if his form was perfect.
OK, so he can score. But the book on Martin has always been able to fill it up, but he only plays on one end. He’s always been regarded as a poor defender. Reputations often carry more weight than actual facts, but sonsider this: Martin held opposing shooting guards to an anemic 12.4 PER last season, according to 82games.com. Part of the issue with Martin is that he’s been the primary scorer on mediocre teams meaning he has to avoid foul trouble at all costs, lest his team be screwed offensively as well as saving something for the offensive end. He’s never had a back end defender like Serge Ibaka to help him either. And he’s never been playing on a team where defense really matters because there’s a bigger goal in mind.
“He’s really playing inspired defense again, is what I’m seeing,” Thorpe said. “It’s easier to do when you’re playing for something bigger.”
Martin has never been on a team this good, never been part of a group that has a chance to hang a banner. He’s been wanting this type of opportunity for a while and is absolutely relishing his time with the Thunder. He’s not a household name kind of player and while he’s obviously been respected as a great scorer throughout the league, because of his seasons sitting in mostly mediocrity, he didn’t warrant much attention. Now he has a chance to show off his game and shine on a good team.
As the aftershocks of the trade begin to wear off and the Thunder put more games under their belt, the appreciation for what Martin brings is only going to grow. He’s a player that Westbrook and Durant have never had. Yeah, he doesn’t do a lot of the things Harden did. But where he lacks in some areas, in others he brings more to the table than Harden. He’s a better shooter, a more efficient scorer, moves wonderfully off the ball and in some ways, is a better fit alongside Westbrook and Durant, assuming they continue their evolutions as creators.
When you give Martin the ball, you know you might get it back. It’s only been four games and it’s obvious that Westbrook and Durant trust him immensely, almost to a fault. There have been possessions that KD has sought Martin out, trying to figure out a way to get him a good look. Against the Hawks when Martin was cooking, the Thunder didn’t find him enough. But that’s part of the process. That was only game three together.
Still, questions remain about OKC’s crunchtime offense without Harden and the worries that come with putting more ball-handling responsibility on Westbrook and Durant. Martin is a better pick-and-roll player than people give him credit for, but he’s not nearly the playmaker Harden is.
But he knows how to throw it in, which is what counts. Even if it looks kind of weird.