Thursday, March 8, 2007

Wake-Up Call from K-Mart

It was easy to sleep on Kevin Martin. It was easy to write him off. The slight build, the funny looking jump shot (keep these in mind!), the fact that he played his college ball at Western Carolina, that he barely played 10 minutes a night as a rookie. Well… WAKE UP! After showing flashes of potential last season, Martin has seriously raised his game this season, establishing himself as the best player on the Kings and one of the top young shooting guards in the NBA. The problem is that Kevin Martin’s wake up call to the NBA would be more easily heard if most of the league weren’t too sleepy to pay attention at 10:30pm Eastern, when an overwhelming majority of his games start.

Not only has K-Mart nearly doubled his scoring average from last year (21.4 in 2006-07, 10.8 in 2005-06), he has raised his field goal (49.6%), free throw (85%) and 3-point percentages (40.2%), which were already outstanding (48%, 84.7%, 36.9% respectively in 2005-06). Last season, when he got consistent minutes, Martin was of the best players on the Kings. In the 39 games he played in January, February and March, Martin averaged nearly 14 points in under 33 minutes per game, not to mention shooting over 50%, 80% and 40% from the field, free throw line and 3-point range. Why his minutes, and as a result his scoring, were cut nearly in half in April is a mystery. For evidence that the Maloof brothers made the right decision in not asking Rick Adelman to return as the Kings’ coach, just look at Kevin Martin’s improved play. Incidentally, if anyone needs more evidence that Adelman needed to go, consider that Ron Artest was the player that lobbied hardest for him to stay.

Why does this matter? Why should anyone care about a skinny shooting guard in Sacramento? Because after next season, when Martin will earn (and dollar-for-dollar, he does earn it!) just over $1.8 million, Kevin Martin will become a free agent, and NBA owners will line up to “make it rain” on K-Mart. What contending team wouldn’t pay top dollar for a young, versatile sharpshooter? And no amount of complimentary nights at the Palms will make playing for the Kings, a mediocre, declining team in an insignificant media market and an inconvenient time zone, an attractive proposition.

Kevin Martin, both in body and game, is the second coming of Reggie Miller- fast and wiry, an extremely agile shot-maker, and MONEY on both his free throws and three pointers. At 24 years of age and in his third season (as was Reggie Miller), K-Mart’s numbers (21.4 ppg, 49.6% FG, 85% FT, 40% 3pt, 4.2 rpg) are comparable, if not equivalent to Miller’s (24.6 ppg, 51.4% FG, 86.8% FT, 41% 3pt, 3.6 rpg), and Martin has yet to play with a teammate who looks to create for others; Mike Bibby is very good, but he’s looking to score, not pass. Whether he’s clutch like Reggie on the biggest stage is yet to be seen- the Kings don’t play many big games these days. If (When?) he takes his game to a contending team that thrives on unselfishness, like the Spurs or the Suns perhaps, Kevin Martin will be a star.

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