From the Swarm: How a Less-is-More Approach Helped Caleb Martin

By Sam Perley

Undrafted, injured and not guaranteed to be on an NBA roster just nine months ago, combo guard Caleb Martin became a factor for the Charlotte Hornets throughout their post-All-Star-Break schedule. As has been the trend since the beginning of the James Borrego era, Martin’s 28 G League outings this season played a significant role in the rapid development of the 24-year-old’s game. 

Martin had entered just five regular season NBA games prior to Feb. 8, all of which came in contests where the outcome was already decided. Spending most of his time shuttling back and forth between Greensboro instead, the North Carolina native averaged 21.4 PPG on 46.8% shooting (36.3% from distance), 6.1 RPG, 3.7 APG and 1.6 SPG for the Swarm this season. 

“When we first started in Greensboro, we were all just out of college and it was really fast-paced,” said Martin on March 11 in Miami. “Guys are a little wild and out of control, including myself. Just learning and getting the reps up in the G League helped us out a lot.”

Martin’s numbers over his final two seasons at Nevada were eerily similar to his G League resume this year, although his usage rate decreased from 27.8% to 23.3% with the Swarm. Usage rate measures the amount of offensive team plays used/ended by a player while he’s on the floor, whether it’s via a shot (made or missed), turnover or free throw(s). 

In his past 13 NBA games, Martin has averaged 7.8 PPG on 45.9% shooting (a fiery 58.8% from three), 2.5 RPG and 1.5 APG, which included a career-high 23 and 19-point showings across a two-game road trip from March 9-11. He ranks fifth overall in scoring amongst undrafted rookies with at least 15 appearances this season and no prior professional experience (6.2 PPG).  

Where Martin is excelling specifically on offense is in catch-and-shoot situations, which has provided the Hornets little drop-off in an area that now-Milwaukee Buck Marvin Williams specialized at for years. At the moment, Martin leads all NBA players in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage with at least 1.5 such attempts per game (63.3%). 

Per CleaningtheGlass.com, Martin is also in the 85th percentile for wings in block percentage (1.2%), 81st in steal percentage (1.8%) and 94th percentile in effective field-goal percentage (59.9%). His usage rate is down to just 15.2% at the NBA level, freeing him up to focus on a few areas in particular without being stretched too thin on both sides of the court. 

“I’m finding ways to maneuver through the offense, finding baskets here and there. It’s not as high of a rate [at the NBA level] because we already have guys that do that, so I want to use a lot of my energy playing defense, picking up full court and bringing energy. But now, I’m figuring out the best of both worlds and getting some offense in there when I can.” 

With over 1,000 minutes of G League play under his belt, Martin had plenty of synchronized in-game repetitions with the Swarm before moving into the Hornets’ rotation in mid-February. 

“When you keep going over and over the same type of situation, things will get stuck in your mind,” Martin said. “You’ll start to carry over things from the G League to the actual NBA game. A lot of things are pretty similar. The only difference is players. Some guys are better, some guys are more athletic, but at the end of the day, you can still carry over the same concepts.” 

“I’ll say this about the G League in general – guys are talented,” said Hornets guard Joe Chealey, who played with Martin in both Greensboro and Charlotte this season. “They’re NBA-caliber dudes down there and there was never a doubt in my mind that Caleb was at that level, too. When you know, you know and it’s just a matter of things working out. That’s the nature of the league sometimes and when you get the opportunity, try to take advantage of it.”

Spot shooting, athleticism, size (6’5” and 205 lbs) and advanced instincts have Martin pointed in the right direction with finishing at the rim (just 40%) the most glaring part of his game he’ll need to address. He is the only current Hornet with a positive net rating (0.8) and isn’t showing any signs of contentment despite how far he’s come in such a short amount of time.  

“You can’t ever get satisfied or think that you’re entitled to any minutes or play,” Martin stated. “At the end of the day, you still have to earn every second that you’re out there. I just want to go out there and make an impact every chance I get and it’s going to start with the defensive end. Whether I’m younger or older, I just want to impact the game in order to solidify myself on the court no matter what.”