Top 50: Kevin Martin, no. 45

by Adam Sweeney/ @AdamSweeney

“And you can check my stats cuz worldwide they attesting to that
So listen you can probably learn a lesson perhaps
How I’m like Bobby DeNiro, Joe Pesc and them cats
Am I the unsung hero? oh yes if you asking anybody that’s aware of the classics”

The Roots – “Rising Up”

I have a confession to make. I’m sick as hell of using the words “underrated” and “efficient” when it comes to Kevin Martin. If Martin had a rapper equivalent, he’d have to be Black Thought from The Roots. Year in, year out, he’s going to knock the tracks out while other artists get the run.

NBA fans and coaches obviously don’t completely recognize his talent yet, which is insane given that he has been a top scorer for the last six seasons, averaging over 20 points for five of the six. Since most awards are named after players, or whatever corporation decides to shell out the most cash, my suggestion is that we create the “Nike Kevin Martin Award,” given out each year to the player who deserves to be on the All-Star team but can’t make it because he’s not flashy enough or voters are too ignorant of his ability. In many ways, it almost seems destined that Martin would play for the Houston Rockets, the ultimate “the sum is greater than its parts” team.

Martin played last season without another star by his side and helped carry the load. He also threw a figurative middle finger in the air to critics who call him fragile by playing 80 games.

For statheads ready to argue that Martin doesn’t put up big enough numbers, check again:

#9 in points per game
#2 in points per 48 minutes
#1 in free-throws made
#8 in free-throw percentage

Those numbers are exactly why Martin fits so well on the Rockets. He knows how to get his points within the frame of the offense and does so while stopping the clock, killing any momentum the opponent can gain while also keeping his team in the game. It explains part of why Houston was such a damn pesky team to play against last season. But you’d know that if you watched him or Rockets games more often, and I’m not saying that out of spite. Working for a Texas sports radio station and being a Houstonian, there’s enough numbers to show that Houston flies under the radar.

Martin’s free-throw shooting has also proven to be a statistical anomaly, but you don’t have to take my word for it. (Yeah, we took it back Reading Rainbow style, bitches.) Allow me to show you a stat by writer Ian Levy*:

“Over the past 10 seasons the League average FT% has never dropped below 75.2 percent, and never risen above 77.1 percent. Over the course of a player’s career their FT% tends to stay fairly similar as well.

Despite entering the League as a very good free-throw shooter, Martin has seen his FT% rise substantially. He shot 81.7 percent his last season at Western Carolina but just 65.5 percent as an NBA rookie. Even if we dismiss his rookie season as a blip we still see steady improvement. He’s increased his FT% almost every season, and is shooting 89.0 percent from the stripe this year. Even more impressive is he’s done that while substantially increasing his number of attempts. As a rookie, Martin averaged 4.4 FTA/36. This season he’s averaging 9.6.”

Take that, haters.

The biggest hit against Martin throughout his career has been that he doesn’t work on the defensive end. To that, I suggest you go watch tape of Carmelo Anthony. That’s not to say Martin and Anthony belong on the same tier, just that playing good defense is not mutually exclusive with the evaluation of a player’s greatness. Some cats are just meant to be scorers.

By now you either get Martin’s importance or you don’t. He’s spent eight seasons in the Association, more than enough time for you to recognize how good he is. Why he hasn’t made an All-Star team yet is one of the greatest mysteries of all time, right next to why Katy Perry’s last album tied Michael Jackson’s Bad for most No. 1 singles of one album, because that shit happened also. But keep talking about the flavor of the month, Monta Ellis, or whatever other scorer ESPN latches on to. Martin’s made a career out of flying under the radar. Why should he stop now?

*Thanks to Red94 for the Ian Levy quote

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.