Kevin Martin learned a lot in his one year in Oklahoma City, about playing for a contender, about using team defensive principles to account for individual weaknesses and about tailoring his game to what’s needed from him.
The simplest truth turned out to be the most important to him — life is a whole lot easier playing alongside a couple of stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now he’s hoping Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will have the same effect in Minnesota.
"After playing with Kevin Durant and Russell, I wasn’t going to another team without a superstar," Martin said on Saturday. "It just elevates your game and makes your life a lot easier."
Martin said Love, an Olympian, former All-Star and rebounding champion, has already asserted himself as one of the league’s big stars, and he thinks Rubio, the dynamic point guard entering his third season, is on his way there as well.
So when it became apparent that the cash-strapped Thunder wouldn’t have the room for Martin this summer, joining Love, Rubio and coach Rick Adelman, who coached Martin in Sacramento and Houston, "was an easy decision."
Martin came to Oklahoma City in the James Harden trade and filled Harden’s role as the team’s offensive spark off the bench. He averaged 14.0 points, the lowest number since his second year in the league in 2005-06. But he also shot a career-high 42.6 per cent on 3s and his 45 per cent overall shooting percentage and 89 per cent free throw shooting were near the best numbers of his career as well.
Back in the starting lineup with the Timberwolves, he’ll play more minutes and take on a greater responsibility from a scoring standpoint than he had last year, which is what he was looking for on the free agent market. Once one of the best in the league at getting to the free throw line, his average attempts dipped to just 3.2 per game last season. Playing again for Adelman, he’ll be asked to resume his role of creating contact and generating points from the line.
"It’s a product of roles," Martin said. "Last year I played as a third guy behind Kevin and Russ, which I loved because I feel like I got a year off from taking on that type of game. Now I feel like I’m ready to go back to that role where I can pick up a little bit more on the offensive end. Right now I feel great and I’m excited to get back into the system and I’m excited to play with such a good team and help get them back to the playoffs."
Martin also played a big role in recruiting Corey Brewer, a friend he has spent the last few summers training with in Florida. Brewer’s strength is more on the defensive end, which the Wolves needed when Andrei Kirilenko left for the Brooklyn Nets.
"Corey’s the perfect guy to play beside me," Martin said. "I knew AK probably wouldn’t be back, and I thought this was the right fit."
Martin has never had the reputation as a lockdown defender, and the Timberwolves could struggle on defence with the more offensive-minded players like himself, Love and Nikola Pekovic in the starting five.
But the Thunder were one of the best defences in the league last season, which taught Martin how to use his teammates’ help to be effective on that end.
"Defence is five guys playing into a system and putting the effort in on defence," he said. "That’s what we need to do out there. I feel like we can do that. We don’t have Serge Ibaka, but we can still put in an effort out there and everybody is on the same page and helps one another and just go from there."