When the Chris Paul trade was first announced, there was a small contingency of critics who felt the Clippers had sacrificed too much in the deal. A lack of depth was given as the primary reason they would be unable to contend for a title in a brutally condensed 66-game season.
Early on, despite the Clippers' current place atop the Pacific Division standings, there has been some legitimacy laid to those claims. The Clippers' second unit has been outperformed on a consistent basis, and coach Vinny Del Negro has struggled to find a way to rest his star players without losing leads. Without any real depth in the frontcourt, the Clippers looked more vulnerable than deeper contenders in the Western Conference such as Denver or Portland.
Despite facing some pressure to do so, Neil Olshey, Clippers vice president of basketball operations, never put the cart in front of the horse. Instead of panicking and trading a red-hot Mo Williams for multiple role players, or moving the last young asset on the team in Eric Bledsoe, the Clippers remained patient for a solution to shore up their depth.
The Clippers have found that solution in veteran forward Kenyon Martin, who agreed to terms on a contract Friday for the mini-mid-level exception of $2.5 million.
Even if Martin, an All-Star in 2004, isn’t the player he once was after multiple injuries, he still represents a huge upgrade to the frontcourt. The Clippers have given combo-forward Ryan Gomes 16.3 minutes a game and backup center Solomon Jones 9.7 minutes a game only to watch them combine for a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of less than 5.0. For comparison sake, the league average PER rating is 12.7 this season. Martin, meanwhile, has a career PER of 15.4. Just by simply absorbing the minutes given to Gomes and Jones, Martin represents an upgrade.
Like his former teammate Chauncey Billups, Martin has found a way to cheat Father Time a bit and delay his decline. Defensively he remains a solid weakside defender who is capable of getting up and challenging shots at the rim. For a team lacking any shotblocking threat outside of DeAndre Jordan, Martin’s presence in the paint will be well received.
Although rebounding machine Reggie Evans has helped solve some of the Clippers’ woes on the glass, the addition of Martin will only further solidify a team that sometimes struggles with being physical and boxing out.
Offensively, Martin brings a new element to the Clippers' bench. Unlike Evans, the Clippers' current first big man off the pine, Martin is actually a threat in pick-and-roll situations. Defenses will have to sag and respect Martin when he’s rolling to the hoop because Martin is still one of the better finishers at the rim in the league. Martin’s scoring ability shouldn’t be underestimated. The player he’ll back up, Blake Griffin, has converted on 70.5 percent of his shots at the rim this season according to HoopData.com. Last year with the Nuggets, Martin finished 71.3 percent of his chances.
Although they certainly aren’t pretty, Martin’s line drive flicks from around 15 feet can be surprisingly effective. Although you would never describe him as a “pick-and-pop” player, Martin can’t be left all alone at the free-throw line -- something that should help space the floor for the rest of the Clippers.
Perhaps the most valuable thing Martin brings to the floor is his toughness. The Clippers already have their stars, but now it’s time to protect them. In Martin, the Clippers now have a player capable of doing just that.