Kevin Martin may be nearing a return to the Rockets' lineup. That's not necessarily a good thing.
BY: KYLE ADAMS
In a matter of months, Rockets shooting guard Kevin Martin has gone from one of the team’s most popular players to one of its most loathed.
There is no question he has a ton of talent on the offensive end, but ever since the failed trade that would of sent himself, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic to the New Orleans Hornets, and Pau Gasol from the Lakers to the Rockets in a three-team December deal that got turned down by commissioner David Stern, Martin has been painfully inconsistent, to the point where he is a liability when he is on the floor.
This year, Martin is averaging 3 rebounds and 3 assists, and leading the team in scoring with 17 points, still below his career average, and down from 23 points a game last year.
It’s sad to see one of my favorite players have such a drastic fall from grace since his fantastic season last year, when he was one of the top players in free throws and 3-pointers made. He went from having that superstar swagger you see from the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, to looking lost and disinterested in the game.
It doesn’t help that first-year head coach Kevin McHale is going to play the guys who have been more efficient and worked hard. McHale will not wait on his players to figure it out on the floor.
Martin has not played since March 11 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, against whom he only logged 3 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in just 16 minutes. He had been battling a shoulder injury since a few weeks before he was put on the shelf, and is still listed as day-to-day.
For Kevin Martin fans, it has been frustrating; for the fans that had long lost faith in him, it has been a blessing in disguise. Since Martin went down, Courtney Lee has played admirably in his place, averaging 13 points, 1.5 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal in his last 10 games. It seems Martin will most likely be back before the season ends, which will help with depth for the playoff run.
But I think it’s debatable if that’s a good thing for the Rockets or not.
I expect McHale to put Martin on the bench when he returns, giving Lee what he has wanted since joining the Rockets, the starting nod. I also expect for Martin to be completely irate about McHale’s eventual decision to bench him, which, in my opinion, would be the last straw for the partnership. I fully expected the Rockets to trade him before the deadline this year, but it’s likely his play and nagging injury factored into those decisions.
Even before his injury, McHale had lost all trust in Martin’s play, pretty much having him on a short leash if he wasn’t contributing offensively. One of the main attributes to Martin’s frustration this year is he isn’t getting any of the calls he got last year. He went from averaging 8.4 free throws a game last year to only 4.5 this year. Yet he still continues to try and draw the same fouls by flopping himself into the defender – even when the league explicitly said before the season it would no longer award such acts – and when that doesn’t work, he jacks up unnecessary shots from behind the arc.
Martin is a solid slasher to the basket, with quickness and a knack for getting off nifty shots at awkward angles, but has strayed away from it this year for no apparent reason. When the game starts, he looks to have all the confidence in the world. But as it goes on, you see it all drain away.
In Martin’s last three games, before his injury, he averaged less than 20 minutes a game and only scored a total of 15 points while only making 4 of 18 shots.
I think the only way his return can be a good thing for the Rockets is if he is inserted back into the starting lineup immediately upon his return, which could hurt the Rockets’ chances of re-signing Lee in the offseason, or if McHale can convince him that coming off the bench is what he is best suited for until he can be dealt when the season comes to an end.
In my opinion, the Rockets have fared better without Martin or Kyle Lowry – their initial starting backcourt the last two seasons – and with Goran Dragic and Lee starting in their place. The Rockets are 5-4 in the last nine games since Martin has been out. The nine games before he went down, the Rockets were 3-6.
If Martin can’t score, he is basically useless, as his defense is subpar. When Martin is not on the floor, the opposing team averages five fewer points per game.
The Rockets are better off without him. He has no role with the team now or in the future. He simply needs a change of scenery to pick back up where he left off last year. But the bottom line is that when he comes back this season, there will be a lot of awkwardness between him, Lee, and McHale, and it couldn’t come at a worse time, when they’re making a push for the playoffs.
But if the Rockets want to make a serious run at the postseason and upset a top team in the first round, they are going to need the old Kevin Martin. I just don’t see that happening.
At least, not with the Rockets.