Season Recap: Rookie Caleb Martin Rises from G League to NBA Rotational Player

by Sam Perley

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For a rookie that went undrafted last June, was injured for Summer League and played a majority of his first professional season in the G League, guard Caleb Martin couldn’t have finished his 2019-20 campaign on a brighter or more promising note for the Charlotte Hornets.

A two-time First-Team All-Mountain West honoree and the conference’s Player of the Year at Nevada in 2018, Martin still slid out of the 2019 NBA Draft, something that “was a little bit of a surprise,” said Hornets General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Mitch Kupchak. With the Hornets having drafted Caleb’s twin brother Cody in the second round, the front office had “some leverage” to reunite the two, according to Kupchak.

Martin eventually made the team’s final roster and outside of a handful of inconsequential NBA appearances, he spent his first three months of the season suiting up for the Greensboro Swarm, the organization’s G League affiliate. Martin led the Swarm in scoring this season, posting averages of 21 points on 47 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists and almost two steals in 28 appearances.

The Hornets’ rotation opened up a bit after the trade deadline with Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both moving on to different organizations. Martin scored five points in a road win over Detroit on Feb. 10 and then made his first career NBA start in Minnesota two days later, finishing with eight points and three rebounds in an 18-point comeback victory.

The 24-year-old really hit his stride over the final six games of the season, recording marks of 12 points on 52 percent shooting, two rebounds, two assists and over one steal off the bench. He scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting in Atlanta on March 9 and then closed out the campaign with 19 points in Miami on March 11.

“The biggest thing I look at is just how much the game has slowed down for me,” said Martin. “It’s a credit to the G League and the Greensboro Swarm that helped me out a lot with that. They really took the time to teach me about the game, the pace, different reads and overall molded my game so I could be ready to contribute in Charlotte.”

Martin averaged just over six points, two rebounds and one assist in 18 total NBA appearances this season, shooting 44 percent from the field and a strong 54 percent from three (20-of-37 overall). He led all NBA players in catch-and-shoot efficiency from distance (63.3 percent; mini. 1.5 attempts per game), with the next closest player coming in at 55.3 percent.

“I want to keep being a consistent shooter and continue to knock those down,” Martin said. “In the game of basketball, you’re going to miss shots sometimes, but I would like to be one of those guys that other teams get nervous about when they’re open. I want to be one of those guys that other teams have to key in on. I want to be one of the guys who can help contribute and make another team afraid if I’m open.”

Martin became just another example in a growing line of Hornets players over the last two seasons that have gone the G League route and developed into valuable NBA rotational pieces.

“The G League has been a significant area of our development and a focus for me and for us,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “Look at our track record the last two years in using the G League. I think it speaks to how much we believe in it and how much we’re committed to it. If you look at Devonte’ Graham’s progression, you look at Caleb Martin, Cody Martin this year, Jalen McDaniels – those are all major pillars for us moving forward.”

“I think being proud [of Caleb] is an understatement,” said Cody Martin. “Caleb had never been in that type of situation before. There can be a lot of ups and downs throughout that process, but he put in the work. I saw him come in every day, and he did his job. He earned his spot and his minutes and to see him go into those games and score 20 points, I knew he was capable of doing those things. It was awesome to see.”

With how far he’s come combined with the opportunity to play with his twin brother in their home state again, it’s been quite a special season for Caleb Martin and he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

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