Cartier Martin: a Different Perspective
[Cartier Martin, with hand raised to the right (20), sets up behind the 3-point line.]
The weighted average of this romantic crime comedy starring the Hoff, Joan Collins, and Telly Savalas sits at a 4.9 (out of 10). 19.4% of voters rated it a 10, 20.9% rated it a 5, and the remaining votes were scattered across the scale. The Cartier Affair was best enjoyed, on average, by males aged 18-29 and females aged 45 and older – rating the flick a 7.4 and an 8.5 respectively. Digressing no further (because this demographic inspection is only mildly interesting to me and not applicable to my hoops analysis), the critique “not as terrible as one would expect” applies to Cartier Martin, too.
At first glance, his career stats (in 51 total NBA games with the Bobcats, Warriors, and Wizards) don’t pop off the page.
Cartier’s performance is much more encouraging after taking a closer look at his career numbers via Basketball-Reference.com‘s advanced stats.
Martin has low usage and turnover percentages, and though his assist rate is a bit low as well (even for a SG), it has improved since his rookie year. His rebounding rate has also increased from 7.7% as a rookie in Charlotte to 10.6% at the end of the 2009-2010 season in Washington. Yet as with all players, Martin’s stats are not able to fully describe his impact on the court. Therefore, we’ll depart from the measurement of indelible, concrete statistical records, and move onto a theoretical, abstract observation.
Bullets Forever‘s Mike Prada was in Las Vegas for the Wizards Summer League opener and was able to get a closer look at the team than the fans following the game in the DMV. He wrote:
“The Warriors had the ball out of bounds, and Martin was guarding Jason Rich. Raymar Morgan was on Reggie Williams, the Warriors’ high-scoring combo guard. Suddenly, as the play began, Martin began shouting at the top of his lungs. FIFTY FIVE DOWN! FIFTY FIVE DOWN. REGGIE’S COMING OFF!” In other words, he was calling out the Warriors’ play before it happened.
This kind of thing happens on occasion in the NBA, when the players have been fed with all sorts of detailed team scouting reports. But in Summer League, there are no detailed scouting reports, no visual breakdowns of what a rag-tag group of random rookies and free-agent signings like to run.”
Summer League players don’t often recognize other team’s offensive plays. Yes, Martin had the advantage of playing with the Warriors last year (both in the 2009 Vegas summer league and for 10 games in January 2010). However, simple exposure to information doesn’t guarantee that it can be committed to memory or even recalled at a later date. Some fail to recognize offensive and defensive sets during the regular season, unable or unwilling to take advantage of the scouting reports and in-depth tape study at their disposal. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Martin.
In my SL debut review, I noticed that Martin looked like a professional – focused and analytic on both ends of the court. It’s as if Cartier Martin set aside his dreams of NBA super-stardom and multi-million dollar shoe deals, to climb the ladder of roundball enlightenment and self-actualization. (There is a fair bit of conjecture ahead.) Let me explain.
From His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler’s The Art of Happiness at Work:
“…to have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality. Now, the opposite of reality is to project onto yourself qualities that are not there, ascribe to yourself characteristics in contrast to what is actually the case. For example, when you have a distorted view of yourself, such as through excessive pride or arrogance, because of these states of mind, you have an exaggerated sense of your qualities and personal abilities. Your view of your own abilities goes far beyond your actual abilities. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself. So excess–both in terms of exaggeration and devaluation–are equally destructive. It is by addressing these obstacles and by constantly examining your personal character, qualities, and abilities, that you can learn to have greater self-understanding. This is the way to become more self-aware.“
Transformations such as this are not uncommon in the NBA. Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe spoke with Ray Allen about the new-look Miami Heat. Allen discussed the similarities between the 2007-2008 Celtics and the 2010-2011 Heat, and commented: “The question is, are they ready to sacrifice? Make the ultimate sacrifice? It’s not about numbers. It’s not about accolades. When we did this in ’07, that’s what we all knew. That’s what we all said.” Individually, the Big Three had accomplished all that they could. Garnett had the trimmings of a four star general, Allen had shot himself higher and higher into the NBA record book, and the histrionic Pierce had been one of the most consistent scorers in the Association. The Boston Three Party’s discernment that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts made their union less Frankenstein’s monster and more Skynet’s terminator.
The quizzical Ron Artest, who had always considered himself a franchise player, spoke humbly, and in earnest, about his time with the Houston Rockets during this year’s Western Conference Finals.
Said Artest, “You can make the argument that (I) should start over Shane Battier. But was that right for the team? No. It was not. So I had to get in my mind that I’m not going to make the money I’m going to make. I just got to deal with it.” Artest continued, “I’m going to be a mid-level player. Let’s play basketball and just win. That’s why it’s easy to come here and fit right in…You see what I’ve been through? I’ve sacrificed basically money to win.”
The 2009-2010 Artest took less shots than he did over his last two seasons with the Sacramento Kings and during his stint with the Rockets, scoring a career-low 11 points per game. The “reborn,” self-effacing Ron-Ron sacrificed personal distinction for the betterment of the Los Angeles Lakers. Artest peacefully transmuted from the brash, Hennessey guzzlin’ Tru Warrior, into his new role as a ball and chain – and a champion.
The distinction, of course, between Cartier Martin other butterflies is that he is only 25. Ron-Ron and The Big Three were 29 or older when they decided to alter their mindsets and recast their games. For Martin, his stylistic reconstruction and the dissolution of his individual ego allow him to make the most of his opportunities by embracing his limitations. Watching the wing during his first three Summer League games as a Wizard, it is safe to say that Martin has realized his greatest strength is not physical in nature (despite being a 6’7”, 220lb athlete), but rather noetic in design. His path to basketball enlightenment is more of a spiritual journey.
Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment is often divided into three larger parts, known as the Three Higher Trainings: higher moral discipline, higher concentration, and higher wisdom. Martin honors these principles individually and the relationships between them and with further practice, he will be lifted to a higher level of existence on the hardwood.
1. Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood:
Ethical conduct and moral discipline are
prerequisites for mental purification and self-awareness.
Martin came out of high school as one of the top ranked prospects at his position. At Kansas State, he was regarded as the school’s best scorer and a guy who could play at the 2, the 3, and the 4. In 2005, current Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Bill Peterson was the associate head coach at Colorado State University. Peterson remains one of the most respected player development specialists in the nation, and had this to say about Martin: “Cartier Martin is as talented a player as we’ve seen. Cartier Martin is their best shooter…We can’t help off Martin [or he’ll] kill us.” With his reputation and abilities as a pure shooter, it is no surprise that Martin was more of an offensive player when he entered the league. He has talked about his experience first focusing on his offense, before learning and accepting that there was more to basketball than points.
His current focus is now on the defensive end, because “that’s gonna open up the offense for everybody.” This would appear to be paradoxical, however, Martin subconsciously understands and has applied Dr. Dietrich Braess’ mathematical theory to basketball. Briefly, “The Braess Paradox” states that adding extra capacity to a road network, when the moving entities (we, the drivers) selfishly choose their route, can reduce overall performance. As applied to sports, the addition of “scoring options” to a team, where players act in their own best interest, increases intra-squad competition and decreases offensive efficiency. (The Paradox’s sporting parallel has been described in detail by Bill Simmons as “The Ewing Theory.”) This is not always the case, exemplified by the Lakers and Celtics teams discussed above. Nevertheless, Martin has assented that he can improve the Wizards by removing himself from the “primary offensive option” role he has played in the past, and favoring other responsibilities.
Cartier Martin actually had several fully-guaranteed NBA offers on the table after an outstanding 2009 Summer League with the Warriors, where he was the team’s third leading scorer (19.7PPG, 44.4% from the field). Somewhat misguided by a lucrative international contract, Martin signed a multi-year deal with Italian club Benetton Treviso. Several months later, he bought his way out of his European, returned stateside, and began resurrecting his NBA career. Hours after landing in the United States, Martin showed up at the Iowa Energy training facility at noon for a four o’clock practice. Talking about his extra effort:
“This is what I do, man. First of all, it’s a big adjustment coming from overseas back into the NBA. I knew I had to put in a lot of work to try to get myself back in. So, those days I came in 4 and 5 hours before practice just to get up shots and work on different things, to adjust my game back to this style of play. I’m a hard worker, man, and you’re not going to get there if you don’t put in that work.”
During Monday night’s game against the Clippers, Martin was nearly held scoreless through three quarters. Understanding the consequences of every action (and in typical form), he remained engaged and picked his spots; choosing not to force shots just to get his name on the board. Martin is willing to shoot, but he also recognizes that there is no reason to press the issue with John Wall running the offense. Open shots will present themselves. Last night, they did. He torched the Mavericks, sinking Gilbert-approved “quality shots,” ultimately scoring 23 points on 6 of 11 shooting. Discipline, commitment, respect for both team and game are all there.
2. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration:
Concentration is achieved through training in the higher consciousness,
through a calm and connectedness needed to realize true wisdom.
The 4,700 square feet of polyurethane-soaked wood Martin spends much of his time on isn’t a gauntlet of angst or panic, nor a stage for posturing, nor is it a platform in which to assert one’s masculinity. Certainly, basketball would be unrecognizable if the majority of players approached and interpreted the game as Martin does. What would basketball be like, at any level, if the rim-rocking open court dunks, chest pounding, and flexing were absent? The taunting after blocked shots is also universal, as if defenders the world over are offended by any scoring attempts made in their air space. (Sometimes they actually are.) Basketball will always be characterized as a physical, aggressive, explosive sport; one that prizes toughness above all else. And still, it can also be something different, made clear when viewed through a particular lens.
Martin sees the court as a puzzle with many moving parts; the contest as a system needing structure and order. The order Martin seeks to establish is separate from the authoritarian control of referees. It’s not a control over micro-seconds, but a conducted directive over X‘s and O‘s. This was evident from the Wizards’ opening tip. Martin’s head was on a swivel. He incessantly called out assignments on defense and directed traffic on offense. His understanding of the game allows him to connect with his teammates, letting them know how plays will unfold, preparing them for threats directly in front of them, as well as challenges in the future.
He hasn’t emerged as a vocal leader because he has been running the floor with younger teammates. No, that’s always been a part of Martin’s game and it’s one of the assets he brings to this team. “If I were to make the team,” Martin told TAI, “there’ll be older guys, more veterans, but I still have to remain vocal and and still speak up…If we need to be somewhere [on the court], we need to be there. Everybody has to help everybody.”He also offered some insight into the benefits of staying calm and connected. “You have got to enjoy it, you can’t take it too seriously. You have to be aggressive and you have to play hard, but you have to enjoy it and have fun in the game,” said the perceptive Martin. “[Having fun] helps you relax, helps you to be more confident, it just helps you go out and do what you do. Instead of trying to do too much, or being too worried, or being too anxious…you’re trusting in your teammates and you’re playing your game.”
Martin not only trusts his teammates. He also helps them empower his teammates, to trust themselves and their skill sets. Like Tim Duncan and Steve Nash, Martin is exploding with love and support for his teammates – Martin leads the Wizards in high fives, butt slaps, and other similar morsels of encouragement. (John Wall is a very close second.) This qualifies him for entry into the conversation of the NBA’s most inspiring leaders. Confused? Well, good players aren’t afraid to touch teammates, which consequently makes the team better. Positive reinforcement expressed through touch helps to motivate players and connect distinct personalities.
3. Right View, Right Intention:
Wisdom provides the sense of direction with its conceptual understanding of reality.
It awakens the faculty of penetrative understanding to see the world as it really is.
“It should also be mentioned that while some players [who are freak athletes with developed SF bodies] too often attempt to be something they aren’t and force their perimeter offense, Martin is a very patient and team-oriented offensive player,” commented Draft Express in 2006 (Martin’s senior year), hinting that the seeds of basketball wisdom had taken root in this preternaturally gifted young man early on. “It is very difficult to find an instance of Martin taking a bad shot last season. Instead, Martin waits for those perimeter shooting opportunities to develop within the offense and finds other ways to produce closer to the basket. He does a great job of identifying and cutting into weak spaces in the defense, and with his athleticism and long arms it doesn’t take him long to get the ball to the rim once he receives it in an opportunistic position.”
Martin has also been commended for showing anticipation and a high energy level on the defensive end. He has the ability to tirelessly lock and trail around screens, play within the team concept, show active hands, and always get to the spot, putting himself in harm’s way to draw charges. More recently, Martin has been more active crashing the boards, hitting the floor to pick up loose balls, and is reliably one of the first to track back on defense. The praise he gets for his work on the defensive end is merited, and all of the above were put on display against Dallas. A bonus: Martin shut out Dallas’ SF J.R. Giddens, who had been averaging just under nine points per game.
Cartier has shown that he can contribute in ways separate from a picture-perfect release, successfully responding to offensive inconsistencies with on-court leadership and relentless effort. When asked what he would have done differently, given what he knows now, Martin admitted he should have been more disciplined, adding:
“I would have worked a lot harder in what I was trying to accomplish, what I was trying to do. If I was trying to be an offensive player, I should have worked harder to do that. I picked up the work ethic kind of late. Gotta be focused, continue to work hard, and if I knew some of the things I know now, I feel like I would have had a better chance…It clicked when I had to leave my family and go overseas that first year out of school. It was a very tough year for me, having to make that transition going across the world. And so I knew, if I want to be over here and I want to play this game – this is the game I’ve grown up watching, I love it – if I want to play, I have to work harder. I made a commitment to myself and to my family to work hard and do what I could.”
Martin is a player who constantly talks about working hard and mastering his craft, but he speaks sincerely and puts forth the effort to do so. Having sacrificed his chance for a king’s salary, a scoring title, and iconic celebrity, Martin views the game with a different perspective. He no longer sees himself as an “offensive player,” but as a complete weapon (albeit a work-in-progress). He has redirected his athletic potential and championed team basketball.
Ernie Grunfeld and the Wizards brass have been looking to shore up the SF position and have already contacted representatives for a few veteran wing players. Can Martin fill that spot? Cartier Martin’s 20-point games may be few and far between, but his judgment and guidance are worth much more to this young team than an overflowing stat sheet. He “gets it” and his play reflects a willingness to do more than just light up the scoreboard.
In his own words:
[Kyle Weidie contributed to this piece with on-site reporting from Las Vegas.]
[Photos and video copyright of Weidie and John Townsend, Truth About It.net]