Why the Rockets should not trade KJ Martin

N.B. Lindberg
Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets
Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages
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How valuable is KJ Martin in a trade?

The question, “Should the Rockets trade KJ Martin?” is somewhat irrelevant without the context of what he would net in return. If the Rockets could land Kevin Durant for Martin straight up, that’s the easiest and craziest trade in NBA history, but if all the Rockets receive for Martin is cash considerations, then that’s simply a non-starter. 

I wrote about KJ Martin’s trade value in the summer and did so earlier this week (if you’re interested in more details, click this link). In short, I don’t think Martin’s trade value is all that high. A very late first-round pick is the best Rockets could likely do. Some may see that as insulting, but it would be an incredible price to pay. The cost to acquire Christian Wood was the 26th pick. In what world does KJ Martin have greater trade value than Wood?

Martin is a valuable role player on the Rockets, but being a role player on the Rockets is one of the lowest distinctions in the NBA. Even if you believe he should start, most of the Rockets starters wouldn’t start for a contender. That’s not an insult, but an objective reality of where most of their roster is in their careers. 

Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, and Tari Eason are all exciting young players with potential, but their ability to help a team win now is very limited. They all could carve out a role on a good team, but their trade value is wrapped up in what they can be down the line. This is what makes KJ Martin such a difficult player to gauge in terms of trade value. 

Currently, Martin has a few excellent traits but offers very little outside of cutting, running in transition, and occasionally operating as a roll man. His defense, outside of highlight reel blocks, is still questionably reliable, and his dribbling, floor spacing, and passing are serviceable enough but aren’t special. 

One of the reasons Rockets fans love Martin is because of his scoring efficiency, but the way he gets there raises questions about his actual value. Cuts and roll man possessions are two of the highest-efficiency lowest-frequency plays in basketball. Transition possessions occur at a much higher frequency and are similarly very efficient, but being on the receiving end of transition possessions is far less valuable than being the originator. 

Martin’s greatest strength is also his greatest flaw. He doesn’t create, he finishes. Doing so will boost your scoring efficiency, but the true value is in creating those opportunities. This isn’t to say that Martin’s cutting isn’t a tangible strength, but it’s the reality that cutting and finishing is the easy part of the possession. 

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