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In Praise of Martell Webster

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This off-day seemed like a good time to stop and recognize the improvement of young Mr. Martell Webster so far this season.  It's been scattered throughout many conversations but it seemed appropriate to focus it all together so we can assess.

In my estimation, the change in Martell's game has been nothing short of remarkable.  Even the way he walks and moves is different than the Martell we saw last year, let alone his motion on the court.  Long, languid moves were always his style.  He'd move his feet or slide over on defense, for instance, but by the time he had gotten halfway through his slide the other guy had gotten two steps in and was past him.  It was the same on offense.  When he moved he drifted, usually slowly.  Even though his release has always been pure he took a long time to set up his shot, even to decide whether or not to take it.  This year is night and day different.  His motion, offensively and defensively, is compact and confident.  He knows where he's going on the court and he knows what he wants to do when he gets there.  You see crisp, efficient foot movement on defense.  He's taking shorter steps and making quicker slides and adjustments.  His feet aren't flat nearly as much.  Where he used to issue free middle-of-the-lane passes with regularity he's now staying in front of his man on almost every possession.  At least twice a game I find myself saying, "Good defense Martell!"  (Then I consider how those words sound so odd together.  That makes me shake my head all over again at what he's done.)  The improvement shows on offense too.  People say he's better off the dribble, which is somewhat true.  The mechanics of his drives actually look a lot the same to my untrained eye as they did last year.  The difference is that he drives with purpose now.  He knows where he wants to go and where he can get an open look.  The drives are shorter, more incisive.  His shot has followed form as well.  His release is still among the prettiest in the league.  But now he gets to the release a lot quicker than he used to.  He looks deadly when he hits, which makes him a credible threat even without the ball.

A cursory look at the statistics bears this out.  Forget that his 13.3 ppg average almost doubles last year's pace.  It's too young in the season to judge.  Also Martell will have nights where he's the focus of the offense and scores 20 and night when he's not and scores 10.  It used to be if he wasn't scoring he was a complete waste out there.  That was the old Martell.  This new Martell plays enough real basketball that you can keep him on the court for 32 minutes even if he's not the main guy.  Look instead at his shooting percentages.  His overall percentage has gone from .396 to .452 which is an enormous leap.  Any jump shooter that can hit 45% is dangerous.  His three-point percentage is up slightly from .364 to .371, and that's taking more shots.  His free throw percentage has gone from .705 to .824, another enormous leap.  His whole offensive game has been revolutionized.  He's also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists, which seem modest until you read what he did before.  The rebounding has been especially helpful to the cause...exactly what our small forward is called upon to do.

I don't want to over-hype the guy.  We're only 10% into the season.  But there's no doubt that this is the best 10% of a season Martell has ever played by far.  In fact you'd have trouble finding 8 games from the 143 in his first two seasons where he contributed in so many areas.  He has a long way to go before he's at the peak of his abilities as an NBA player but at this point he really looks like an NBA player for the first time ever.  The magnitude of that transformation shouldn't be overlooked or downplayed.  Congrats to him and yippee for all the rest of us!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)