The arrival of Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves to pair up with Ricky Rubio in the backcourt should take the team to the next step in their playoff quest, but looking at how the Houston Rockets, with Jeremy Lin & James Harden in the backcourt, operated last season, there is room for caution in both the team and the individual level.
For the last couple of seasons, it looked like the Minnesota Timberwolves might make it into the playoffs, but injuries to key players like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love (more than once) derailed those hopes & dreams. With Kevin Martin now on board, those expectations are back on track.
Last season, the Timberwolves were ranked last in the NBA in three point shooting, making only 30.5% of their shots. Kevin Love, usually a 35% shooter from beyond the arc played in less than 30 games, and he wasn’t healthy in some of those he played, ending up shooting only 21.7% from beyond the arc.
Ricky Rubio did comeback and post some nice numbers once he got back on track and lost the fear of driving to the basket, averaging 10.7 points and 7 assists per game. The team’s top shooter from the outside was Barea, hitting 34.6% of his shots. It’s impossible to win without an outside threat that can work well off the ball.
Kevin Martin had to get use to a new situation in Oklahoma City last season, but he performed quite well during the regular season, averaging 14 points per game while shooting 42.6% from beyond the arc. He wasn’t supposed to replicate the scoring production of James Harden. He was supposed to provide an offensive outlet when teams close in on Durant and Westbrook, while also being the best offensive option on the second unit.
Then came the postseason, and Martin was thrust into a role he wasn’t ready for. Russell Westbrook was out due to the knee injury, and Martin had too much of the ball in his hands, doing a lot more ball handling than the Thunder needed. They crashed & burned against the Memphis Grizzlies, with Martin not raising his game (still scored only 14 per game) enough to help Oklahoma City in his only his second visit to the postseason.
Rick Adelman knows Martin, and knows he’s much more than just a spot up shooter. He averaged 25.9 points per game a few years ago for the Rockets, and probably can still get close to the 20’s if given enough time on the floor and with the ball. But is that recommended? Probably not.
One of the biggest problems for the Timberwolves last season is spacing. What’s the use of having an amazing passer like Rubio if the guard playing next to him most of the time is also a point guard? Martin provides that answer for 25-30 minutes a night, maybe even more. As long as he doesn’t force himself too hard on the ball and playcalling, things should go smoothly, and a healthy Timberwolves team will be one of those trying to fit in the very narrow room of the top 8 in the West, with at least 12 teams looking to get in.
The Houston Rockets this season, without Adelman and Martin, were the example of a point guard being wasted away on a team because the shooting guard wanted the ball too often in his hands. Martin isn’t the player Harden is – he simply is inferior at this stage of his career, but he too can try and do too much instead of playing his role.
Jeremy Lin came to the Houston Rockets with a lot of noise and expectations. Now he’s on the trading block, according to some sources, and in any case, it doesn’t seem like the team for him if the playcalling remains the way it is. Rubio isn’t as good of a shooter as Lin, so no one is going to think of making him into a spot-up player, but you never know. Some players love the ball in their hands much more than it should be, and despite the talent and potential the Timberwolves with Martin, him steering off the planned course would be disastrous for their playoff hopes.