Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Nuggets in the 2000s: Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martin is a complex individual. Always has been. He likes it that way. But in seven seasons with the Nuggets in the 2000s, there is some easy word association to sum his time up.
Yes, chameleon. Let’s start right there. For anyone who watched Martin’s entire career, going back to college at Cincinnati, they saw a player that started out as one of the most imposing physical specimens – ever. Martin tried to rip the rim off on every dunk and tried to rip the heart out of opponents with every blocked shot. And there wasn’t a player he couldn’t dunk over, or a shot he couldn’t block. Basketball, at that time, was natural and free-flowing and, well, easy.
This where we’ll enter perseverance into the conversation as well. Over the years, injuries began piling up. A broken leg. Microfracture surgery. Numerous other ailments. They not only tested Martin’s ability to still be the same athletically, they challenged his ability to not give in and give up. But ‘give’ and ‘up’ as a tandem are not in Martin’s makeup. As such, he kept coming back and in the process reinvented himself on the basketball court. Offensively, his jump shot improved. He incorporated a floater. He picked and chose his spots to remain effective.
Defensively, he settled into knowing all of the nuances of the game. He not only could block a shot and steal a pass, but his positioning was perfect – and he knew where everyone else should be, too. And he made sure they were. The Nuggets were in the top 10 in defensive efficiency the year they went toe-to-toe with the L.A. Lakers in the conference finals, and Martin’s personal play, plus his smarts in directing teammates to where they should be was a huge contributing factor.
Martin played in Denver from 2004-11, signing with the Nuggets as a coveted free agent after spending his first four seasons in New Jersey. In those seven seasons, Martin impacted nearly every category with averages of 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks. He played in 371 games and started 361 of them.
In players that played 30 minutes or more, he was 14th in the NBA in defensive rating in the 2006-07 season, and led the Nuggets in that category that season. He was second on the team in defensive rating in 2008-09, the season the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
But most importantly, what Martin injected into the locker room was tons of heart and toughness. The Nuggets, long thought of as a finesse, free-running basketball team, had teeth with Martin on the court. They hit first and dared opponents to hit back. With that no-nonsense style of play, the Nuggets eventually soared.
Martin was at the epicenter of it all.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.