The Future of the NBA: Why every playoff team needs a Caleb Martin 

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Caleb Martin has shone for nan Heat successful these playoffs because of his elasticity and versatility astatine some ends of nan floor.

On nan surface, it whitethorn beryllium difficult to comprehend really nan subordinate who went undrafted successful nan 2019 NBA Draft is now nan 4th starring scorer successful nan playoffs (12.9 points per game) for a Miami Heat squad that is conscionable 1 triumph distant from reaching nan NBA Finals.

It whitethorn beryllium moreover harder to ideate that this aforesaid subordinate is nan team’s second-leading scorer (18.5 points per game) successful nan Eastern Conference Finals. A bid wherever they’ve been tasked pinch slaying nan Goliath Boston Celtics — nan squad galore believed to beryllium the favorites to triumph nan NBA title.

But if you excavation a small deeper, you will spot that this type of tally was preordained to happen. You will spot that Caleb Martin is precisely nan type of subordinate that was calved to thrive successful nan playoffs.

Caleb Martin is much than conscionable 3-and-D

If you’re not a superstar aliases elite successful 1 circumstantial area, to get accordant minutes successful nan playoffs, you request to beryllium versatile. For a agelong time, that versatility was synonymous pinch nan subordinate archetype galore telephone “3-and-D.”

Martin surely meets nan basal requirements to fulfill nan “3” portion of that role. In these playoffs, he’s shooting 41.4 percent from 3 connected 4.7 attempts per game.

(Sidebar: Many group will constituent to Martin shooting 35.6 percent from 3 successful nan regular play and chalk his 41.4 percent mean up to basking shooting, but successful 2021-22, Martin changeable 41.3 percent from downtown for an full regular season. So, he is surely tin of this level of proficiency).

However, nan crippled is perpetually changing, and where, erstwhile upon a time, you could beryllium incredibly valuable connected discourtesy arsenic a axenic spot-up shooter. Today, teams person developed strategies to tally these shooters disconnected nan 3-point statement and unit them to put nan shot connected nan level (one specified method is called nan “fly-by closeout”).

To antagonistic this strategy, a versatile subordinate is capable to thrust these closeouts and extend/capitalize connected nan advantage that was talented to them by their teammate. Like this:

In these playoffs, 46.4 percent of Martin’s changeable attempts person travel aft 1 aliases much dribbles, and he’s driving nan shot 3.5 times per crippled (per But, for illustration pinch his shooting, this isn’t an out-of-body playoff experience. These numbers are successful statement pinch his regular play averages (43.1 percent and 3.4, respectively).

Truly versatile violative players are besides capable to dabble successful a spot of self-creation from clip to time. In some nan regular and postseason, Martin has averaged 0.7 possessions arsenic a pick-and-roll shot handler per crippled (per, which suggests astatine slightest immoderate aptitude for generating his ain offense.

Versatile connected defense successful a new-age way

The 2nd portion of nan word “3-and-D” is, of course, nan “D,” which, if you hadn’t already guessed, is short for defense.

Back successful nan day, for wings/forwards to beryllium a bully capable defender to beryllium a “3-and-D” player, you needed to sufficiently defender nan different team’s champion and second-best violative players connected nan elbow successful isolation. Oftentimes, those players would beryllium wings/forwards who were akin successful size to nan “3-and-D” player.

But successful today’s positionless world, violative focal points travel successful each shapes and sizes. And pinch nan summation successful mismatch hunting (think astir what LeBron James was doing to Jamal Murray) taking spot successful nan playoffs, these versatile players request to beryllium prepared to mime aggregate positions.

If you didn’t consciousness for illustration watching until nan end, nan supra reel includes clips of Martin shadowing guards (like Jalen Brunson and Jrue Holiday), wings/forwards (like Jayson Tatum, DeMar DeRozan, and Khris Middleton), and moreover bigs (like Julius Randle).

Now, it is worthy pointing retired that montages for illustration that tin beryllium specifically curated to make definite players look really bully aliases bad and that defense is an area wherever reliable information is still sorely lacking. But pinch that said, nan measures and estimates we do person overgarment a promising picture.

The website Basketball Index has 2 useful statistic for ascertaining nan merit of a player’s on-ball defense. Those statistic are Matchup Difficulty (which estimates nan grade of trouble of a player’s assignments) and Defensive Positional Versatility (which measures nan assortment of positions a subordinate is tasked pinch defending).

Take a look astatine really Martin fares among different “off-ball wings” (minimum 1000 minutes played successful nan regular season) successful these 2 categories.

Chart Provided by Basketball Index

He’s successful nan 95th percentile successful Matchup Difficulty and nan 97th percentile successful Defensive Positional Versatility. That’s incredibly impressive. Maybe it’s not arsenic noteworthy arsenic nan opinionated of personification for illustration Dorian Finney-Smith (he’s adjacent nan 100th percentile successful some these categories). But Martin is simply a amended shooter and driver, truthful nan insignificant quality successful their defense isn’t that large of a deal.

With this successful mind, being a bully aliases awesome man defender who tin defender aggregate defenders still doesn’t make you a versatile defender successful today’s game. With nan emergence of Space Ball spreading nan level to a level we’ve ne'er seen before, today’s versatile defenders can’t conscionable beryllium valuable connected nan ball. They request to besides beryllium progressive off-ball.

Martin passes this trial pinch flying colors. He’s been basal to nan Heat’s crippled scheme to deter nan Celtics from driving by aggressively helping disconnected his duty to clog nan lane (otherwise known arsenic “gapping”) and unit turnovers. Look astatine this clip wherever he takes Tatum’s cookies:

On nan season, Martin is successful nan 84th percentile for his position successful bargain complaint (per Cleaning nan Glass) and nan 75th percentile for his position successful deflections per 36 minutes (minimum 25 games played). These are some beardown indicators of a player’s off-ball protect activity.

Not to hit a dormant equine here, but do you announcement really we are mostly citing regular play data? That’s because each nan grounds was correct successful beforehand of america each along. It’s nan detective’s curse. The cleanable solution was correct nether our noses this full time.

Martin was ever destined to radiance during nan game’s 2nd season. And it’s because he possesses nan versatile accomplishment group you request to play successful today’s NBA. He tin shoot, but he tin besides thrust and kick. He tin take sides forwards, but he tin besides defender different positions and transportation retired aggregate functions connected defense.

So, nan adjacent clip you are reasoning astir whether aliases not a peculiar domiciled subordinate is going to execute good successful nan playoffs, inquire yourself: are they arsenic versatile arsenic Caleb Martin?

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