Take a minute and think of home. Close your eyes, if you want. What images does that small, yet undeniably enormous word conjure in your head? Are you teleported back to your childhood house, pencil marks on the kitchen wall a documentary of growth spurts, your bed, despite its age, still somehow more comfortable than any other you ever have or ever will lay in? Perhaps you’re instead whisked away to a summer camp — there’s the white, paint-chipped bench you sat on for hours, there’s the dining hall where you and your friends hollered, chanted and bellowed songs deep into the night.
It’s not just the physical aspects of a place that make it home. It’s the people whose presence lingers long after they’ve left, the memories engraved into the wood, stained into the carpet and plastered on the walls. Home is as much, if not more so, a social construct as it is physical.
After a brief tour away, Kevin Martin finally returned home — not to Houston, not to Sacramento, but to Rick Adelman and his offense.
The four-year, $30-million contract Minnesota offered Martin this summer incurred a healthy, perhaps too healthy, dose of skepticism. Martin is, after all, on the wrong side of thirty, a liability on defense and fragile of body. But the Timberwolves very much needed shooting, and Kevin Martin very much provides that skill.
Martin’s always operated best in a motion offense, one that emphasizes ball movement, numerous off-ball screens, backdoor cuts and the like. Per NBA.com’s player tracking data, Martin scores 7.2 Catch and Shoot points per game, 11th overall, and his effective field goal percentage in Catch and Shoot situations is 64.8, third in the league for players that have played more than eight games. Martin’s also scoring six Pull-Up shots per game, with an effective field goal percentage of 42.9.
Yet Martin’s so much more than just a shooter, and watching him wreak havoc in Adelman’s offense is a rediscovery of the player at his apex.
One reason many thought Martin could at least partly replicate Harden’s production was because of his ability to get to the line at a terrific rate. Unfortunately, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant dominating the ball, there were little leftover opportunities for Martin to utilize this aspect of his game. Last year, Martin used 24% of the team’s possessions while he was on the floor, his lowest usage percentage since his second season in the league, per Basketball-Reference.com. Not coincidentally, Martin’s free-throw rate, 31.6%, was also at career-low levels.
Now, returned to the warm embrace of Adelman’s corner offense, Martin’s free to play to all of his strengths. His usage has climbed back to 26.4%, one of the highest marks of his career. While his free-throw rate, just 33.8%, is still well-below normative levels, he’s had eight or more free throw attempts in seven of twelve games.
Crucial to Adelman’s offense is a passing big man — in Sacramento, it was Brad Miller, while in Minnesota, it’s Kevin Love. As a result of Love’s passing and Martin’s familiarity with the offense, the two Kevin’s have formed a particularly potent chemistry. One of Minnesota’s pet plays features Martin receiving the ball above the arc, and Love posting up just a few feet away. Martin passes the ball to Love, jaunts a few steps to the basket, then darts back around Love, who passes him the ball and immediately screens Martin’s man. Martin’s now free to let it fly.
It’s not just familiarity and comfort with the offense that’s facilitated an easy transition for Martin — it’s the personnel as well. Though Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are the unquestioned stars in Minnesota, and thus use their fair share of possessions, neither dominate the ball in the same fashion as Westbrook or Durant. Rubio’s first, second, and third instinct is to pass. Love, dominant force though he may be, is not one to create his own shot. Martin, therefore, is precisely what the Timberwolves needed — a player not reliant on others to create his own shot. Martin’s return to form is as much a product of necessity as it is fit.
Home is never so simply defined as a mere physical place. Home is where one belongs, where they feel comfortable, where they can be themselves free of restraint or judgement. Welcome home, Kevin Martin.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com