The Underrated Career of Kevin Martin
By Ian Smith
It’s puzzling that Kevin Martin was never considered a bigger star. He wasn’t even considered a Jamal Crawford, let alone a James Harden.
Martin has bounced around the league and suddenly finds himself accepting a far lesser role on the San Antonio Spurs that seems slightly unbecoming of a guy who’s averaged 20 points per game for 3 different franchises, and as recently as last year.
Sacrificing for the good of a team is a noble quality, but it didn’t appear as though Martin had a bevy of options to choose from. He was unceremoniously bought out by the Minnesota Timberwolves and chose to sign with the Spurs most likely because of their title chances.
Yes there was obviously mutual interest, but players who are considered franchise cornerstones don’t get bought out. Glance at Martin’s stat sheet and a novice might mistake him for a marquee NBA player.
Going back to the Crawford comparison, Crawford should have been labeled as a “poor man’s” Martin years ago. They bring a similar skill set and comparable deficiencies, but Martin’s numbers have far surpassed Crawford’s stats.
Why is it that Martin has struggled to find a home in the NBA while Crawford has cemented himself as an instant-offense weapon off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers?
Both are atrocious defenders with a propensity for scoring points. When they were kids, a youth coach must have sarcastically told them that the team who has more points at the end wins the game. With a lack of abstract comprehension, Crawford and Martin proceeded to focus on exactly what their coaches told them to do: putting the ball in the basket with an utter disregard to learning other aspects of the game.
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This isn’t to discount how talented they are at what they both do. If the NBA ever held a “one-on-one” tournament, they’d be considered two of the favorites.
Add Monta Ellis to that short list of phenomenal scorers who’ll never be acknowledged as truly great players. Guys like Harden escape this label, instead being branded as the slightly more flattering “one-way player.” It’s basically the same judgement, but allocated to more marketable players who league officials think can sell sneakers to kids and boost TV ratings.
Where’s the line drawn between a Kevin Martin and a James Harden? The simple answer is exposure and marketability. The actual numbers don’t necessarily matter too much.
For example, Martin has been a top 10 scorer in multiple seasons during his career, including 6th in 2007-2008. Compared to the flashy and bearded Harden, Martin had no real draw to a mainstream audience. He became a great player in Sacramento without much national attention. The Kings were no longer a perennial contender like they’d been with Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, and Martin languished in a basketball wasteland, scoring points that were deemed irrelevant.
But points are points, regardless of the context they’re scored in. Martin has been ignored by basketball fans for too long, and his accomplishments as a pure scorer need to be acknowledged in order for his career to be properly documented.
The NBA is a “what have you done for me lately?” league, and Martin clearly isn’t the player he was 8 or 9 years ago. But why is Harden now embraced far more than Martin ever was?
Martin and Harden’s games are nearly indistinguishable; both are athletic off-guards who draw a lot of fouls, have the quickness to consistently get to the rim, are great perimeter shooters, and play little-to-no defense.
Consistency is important in evaluating players. It’s not that Harden is overrated, but that Martin is criminally underrated.
Martin’s career looks like it’s winding down. He’s 33 years old and has come to San Antonio with clear title aspirations. A championship would be another highlight for a player who displayed almost unrivaled scoring ability at the peak of his career.
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If the basketball world wants to anoint James Harden as an elite player, Kevin Martin needs to retroactively receive that same status. When fans of a certain age reminisce about this era of basketball, they shouldn’t receive strange looks by evoking the name “Kevin Martin.”