It’s been a bit of a pinball effect for Caleb Martin over the last year. Waived by the Charlotte Hornets, settling for a two-way contract with the Miami Heat, performing at an extremely high level when guys went down, finding a new contract on the regular roster, and now making his case to be consistently a part of the playoff rotation.
Yeah, quite a timeline.
I got to talk with Martin after Friday’s practice ahead of Heat-76ers kicking off Monday night, which by the way, he didn’t practice due to a sprained right ankle.
(Wouldn’t be overly worried about that)
But speaking of that second round series coming up, this is Martin’s first experience in that post-season light.
I asked him about that transition into a new world, and what the biggest differences were for him: regular season vs playoffs.
“The speed of the game was kinda surprising to me, how fast it kinda picked up,” Martin said. “It was kind of a combination of speed and attention to detail. Even little things I noticed like when the ball goes up and I’m gonna go crash, usually during the regular season guys don’t turn around and look at you. Guys were turning around and facing me to block me out so I don’t get extra boards.”
It’s clear there are minor shifts like that need to be adjusted quickly, but the one thing that should always stay consistent when blending from game 82 into game 1 of the playoffs is the way you play and the aggression you play with.
For Caleb Martin, he didn’t feel like he did that all the way to make his debut this past week.
After last game when I asked him about his shining attack in game 5, he replied, “I feel like I’ve been passive the whole entire series…I’m not really at my best when I’m passive.”
When I asked him a follow up on that statement after practice, if it was more of him noticing the non-aggression or coaches/teammates telling him, he said, “It was a little bit of both. Coaches and teammates were noticing that I was a little hesitant, so they were telling me stop thinking about it, don’t double guess.”
“Going back and looking at the film, I just noticed how hesitant I was and I could tell I wasn’t myself. That’s just me trying to get acclimated to the post-season.”
And well, now he’s acclimated. In game 5 he scored 10 points, which is one of those things that doesn’t tell the whole story. Since Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry were out, it was one of those things where he knew he needed to step up in the rim pressure department, which was huge in them closing out the series in 5.
Now, looking ahead a bit to the Philadelphia 76ers, there were two role players that stood out against that team all year. One is Gabe Vincent who averaged a team best 21 a game against them this season, yet only played in two of the four games.
The other guy who has semi-slipped under the radar in that match-up is Caleb Martin. In the last 3 match-ups with them, Martin scored 16 off the bench on 6 of 7 shooting, 14 off the bench on 5 of 7 shooting, and 14 off the bench again on 4 of 6 shooting.
He was the PJ Tucker release valve in this match-up all year, and as Martin calls it, it’s all about them worrying about the Heat’s main crew.
“A lot of it has to do with us having stars on the team,” he said. “They create so much attention and so much buzz when they’re on the court, so I’m one of the guys that they’ll probably sink off of or help off of. So cuts and open threes or open shots are going to be there, so I just gotta be in the right mindset and let it go.”
While the offensive side of the ball for Martin is about not thinking and playing a free-flowing type of style, the other side of the ball is the complete opposite. The 76ers put an immense amount of pressure on a defense for the sole reason that they draw foul after foul after foul.
I asked Coach Erik Spoelstra today about the balance between sustaining aggressiveness while still being mindful of foul trouble, which he responded: “We are who we are.”
He went on to say that this isn’t a passive defensive team, so they’re going to play their brand of basketball. Plus you can be a bit more risky when you have a roster with basically 12 playable playoff guys.
When I asked Martin about that same topic of dealing with a team like that, he said, “It’s definitely frustrating man. Like you said, you just have to be hyper-aware of when to be aggressive and when to dial back. That’s partly on me to watch film and know the tendencies: what guys like to sweep, when they like to do it, what spots they like to do it at. So they do a great job of getting to the line, so just being able to pay attention to detail.”
Finally, we can talk about this series involving Martin, but the truth is that we don’t know exactly who will round out the rotation next round. And the 8th and 9th guy in game one may not be the same in game two.
Or better yet, the 8th or 9th man in the first half may not be the same in the second half.
Coach Spo has called Martin a Swiss Army knife all season long, which could probably be his role again here, but it should be stated that’s not an easy thing to do. Being thrown into the fire of a third quarter while other guys are already fully in rhythm is a bit of a catch-up process, and even more-so in the playoffs.
When I asked Martin about jumping into the intensity of the second half of a playoff game after sitting the first 24 minutes, he quickly said, “It’s definitely different.”
He continued that it’s been a focus to make sure he’s in some type of rhythm on the sideline: “I’m stretching and making sure I’m in a full sweat, so I can try to keep that sweat until I know I’m gonna go in. Sometimes I end up tiring myself out stretching out and stuff like that before I get the chance to get in,” as he laughed.
This isn’t an easy process, but the Caleb Martin process has never been simple from the jump.
He’s a true example of Udonis Haslem’s “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”
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