By: KL Chouinard
By the standards of the NBA Draft, Tyrese Martin is not a young man and that may be a good thing for the Hawks.
Acquired via a draft-night trade and signed to a multi-year contract on July 16, Martin turned 23 years old before the NBA Draft, making him the oldest player of the 58 who were chosen. To add some context in terms of players already on the Hawks roster, Martin is about a year younger than five-year NBA veteran John Collins and about a year and a half older than Onyeka Okongwu.
NBA Draft discussion often revolves around potential and future outcomes. Martin cut across the grain and played with a level of maturity in the pre-draft process and in the NBA 2K23 Summer League that demonstrated that he might be able to make the transition from college to the pro game sooner rather than later.
The six-foot-six guard took a circuitous route to the NBA. It began with a postgraduate season at Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia after four seasons at William Allen High School in his hometown of Allentown, PA. Then he played two seasons at the University of Rhode Island before transferring for two more at the University of Connecticut.
In between his two collegiate stints, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Martin stayed true to the workmanlike approach that stands to become his calling card.
"I was just staying ready," Martin said. "Growing up, nothing was easy for me, so I've never really known what was next anyway. I just know to live in the moment and work for what you have to get now. That's all I try to think about. When COVID hit during those seasons, you had to go home. I had to find a way to stay active. I couldn't get in the gym. They took the rims outside off (the backboards). My mom lost her job, so I ended up getting a job myself to help provide for my family and keep a roof over our head. It was a lot, but I feel like all that adversity and different challenges that I've been through in those times definitely helped mold who I am today."
For someone trying to keep alive the dream of playing in the NBA in uncertain times, Martin did what he could to improvise.
"At that point where we lived at the time, our neighbors had courts in the back alley where we lived. Every day I was just going out there messing around and trying to stay active with a basketball and a hoop. It had just been so long that you don't want to lose it."
Even if he didn't lose it, Martin did get rusty.
"I do remember that first time where I was able to get to a court and play full-court, and just from not playing for so long, I was terrible", Martin said, before pausing for a beat for emphasis. "I was terrible."
If the layoff did indeed cause any issue, those issues had subsided by the time Martin took the floor at UConn. In his two seasons at UConn, the Huskies made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. During his time at UConn, Martin appeared in 51 games, averaging 12.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 31.2 minutes while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three.
After finishing his college career, Martin still had work to do.
"The pre-draft process for me, I feel it has been a blessing. After my senior year ended, I wasn't on any mock drafts. I wasn't projected to be drafted."
Martin's approach to the summer: Play in everything. If there was an event that he could join, he did.
"I went to go play in the Reese's All-Star Game for the seniors during Final Four Weekend. I played in the 3-on-3 for the seniors for the money. I played in Portsmouth. I played in the G League Camp. I got invited to the NBA Combine. I had my workouts for ten different teams. I feel like I just took advantage of every opportunity with the mindset that there wasn't a better player in these workouts and I want it more than them."
If Martin emphasized the number of events he attended, he also downplayed his achievements.
· Reese's All-Star Game: Led East team to a win, scored a game-high 22 points
· Dos Equis 3X3U: Led Big East team to a win in the 16-team event for $50K
· Portsmouth Invitational Tournament: Led his team to the Final where he scored a team-high 24 points
· G League Elite Camp: Finished with a 13-point, 14-rebound double double to earn a nod to the NBA Combine.
Martin capped his summer with a strong performance in the NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas, where, among other things, Martin showed that he could drive to the rim looking to score. The number of switching defenses that the Hawks faced in Vegas necessitated that the Hawks find ballhanders who could make plays in isolation. With a roster that wasn't overwhelmingly deep in that area, the Hawks called on Martin in that area and he came through. In five games, Martin averaged 13.8 points on 45.6 percent shooting from the field.
Specifically, he demonstrated the savvy ability to read his defender and make the correct play according to what he saw in front of him. If he got half a step on his defender, he pressed through to get an attempt at the rim. However, if the defender committed to backpedaling, Martin also exhibited a knack for decelerating and relying on his core strength to lean back, make space and put up a soft shot. Where does that maturity come into play? He was reading defenders and making the right choice between the two with better frequency than the typical second-round draft pick.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Martin's Summer League performance was his passing. He finished with the best, if not the two best, passes that the Hawks dished out in Vegas. And they both came with his off hand! After averaging 1.9 assists per game in his senior season at UConn, Martin had 2.2 assists per game in Summer League, but more than that, he just looked comfortable making reads with the increased speed and spacing of the pro level in effect.
Martin also added the rebounding and defense that he was known for in college. He grabbed 7.5 rebounds per game in each of his two seasons at UConn, good enough for a top-10 mark in the Big East both years. If Martin can find a path to real minutes this season, it will likely be a result of his defense. He played solid defense for the Summer Hawks, and while there is room to grow and mesh with his NBA teammates, there is no reason to think he won't be able to develop on that end.
With a combination of maturity and determination, Martin has a recipe to get himself there.