The Boston Celtics seem content to do their due diligence on available players before making any final decisions with their remaining roster spots. Ten-day contracts seem to be the preferred methodology of Brad Stevens and the team's front office, as they look to ensure every player on the roster can contribute to Ime Udoka’s system when called upon.
On Tuesday afternoon the Celtics added Kelan Martin and Malik Fitts, presumably to take a closer look at the pair before making any final decisions on extending them a contract. And while I’m sure Fitts is going to give it his all in the coming days, it was the addition of Martin that caught the eye, most notably because of his previous relationship with Stevens.
“Brad Stevens recruited him. There’s already a previous connection there. You wouldn’t know it because Brad didn’t coach him, so it’s easy to overlook the connection, but Brad knows exactly what type of player he’s getting in Kalen,” a source told CelticsBlog shortly after the team announced the acquisition of Martin.
Martin isn’t a well-known name for NBA fans, but his style of play should fit seamlessly into Udoka’s plans, especially on the defensive end. During his time with the Indiana Pacers, the Butler alum displayed a high motor on defense and looked to suffocate his opponents whenever possible.
“He’s really improved on the defensive end, it’s something he’s really committed himself to. He’s able to guard multiple positions. I have seen him guard guards, guard bigs and wings. He’s really fun to watch on defense.”
As you can see in the above clip, Martin takes no prisoners on the defensive end and looks to close down offensive possessions as quickly and efficiently as possible. That type of defensive intensity will go down well with Udoka, and could potentially net Martin some run during his ten-day contract.
Rick Carlisle isn’t a coach that suffers fools gladly. So for him to feel confident enough to allow Martin an opportunity to defend Damian Lillard, you know that there’s something special about this young player's defensive upside. Boasting great length, athleticism, and a solid ability to navigate screens, Martin will easily slot alongside some of the Celtics' better defenders and won’t look out of place
We all know that defense is about more than physical tools though. The best defensive players have a nasty streak to them, they eat, sleep, and breath physical contract, and daydream about winning every waking moment. It’s a competitive obsession.
“He’s a guy that just wants to win, he’s got a winning pedigree. He was a winner in high school, a winner in college. He’s competitive.”
One of the bigger issues Martin is going to face is proving to Udoka and the coaching staff that he’s more than just a defensive wing. The Celtics have enough high-level defensive players that adding another would potentially be overkill - unless that addition could also provide some shooting. That’s a serious area of need entering the second half of the season.
Unfortunately, since entering the NBA in 2019, Martin has been unable to find a consistent shot from deep, hitting just 30.9% of his 2.5 attempts per game. To make matters worse, the 26-year-old is only hitting 41.7% of his total attempts, giving him a true shooting percentage of 51.4% - slightly below league average.
“He really values shooting. It’s something he’s worked on a lot. He definitely has 3-and-D capabilities in the NBA.”
It’s not that the Lousiville native’s shot is bad, or that his mechanics are in dire need of reform, it’s just that the shot looks stiff, robotic even. Perhaps Martin’s jumper will improve with a consistent role and increased reps when shooting the ball, but he’s unlikely to get either of those opportunities with the Celtics.
As such, we can expect Martin to operate as a slasher on offense, potentially driving out of the corner in a similar fashion to what Romeo Langford did earlier this season.
So, while Martin’s shot is still clearly a work in progress, it’s clear they could potentially be an avenue for him to explore as an offensive option should he be given the required game time. Of course, any player who comes in on a 10-day contract is essentially being given an audition, and for that reason, it makes sense the versatile wing will rely on his defense to do the talking. After all, we're all aware of what’s winning Boston games at present.
Finally, the Celtics could be adding another warrior to their bench, as Martin’s path to the NBA has been littered with setbacks and “prove yourself” deals. The former Butler Bulldog has even taken his talents to Europe in the past, as he tries to navigate his career into a long-term NBA contract.
“This is a guy who has worked so hard to get where he’s at. Played in Germany for a year, played in Summer League, a two-way contract, non-guaranteed, and now a 10-day. This is a guy who’s had to fight, scrape, and claw for everything. He’s earned everything.”
As a player, Udoka was built in a similar mold to Martin and may see parts of himself in the wing, but there’s no telling if that will be a good or bad thing when the time comes to make a decision on retaining Martin or letting him re-enter free agency.
For now, though, Stevens has acquired a player who he has intricate knowledge of, and that bodes well for Martin’s immediate future in green.