Kevin Martin: The Adam Dunn of the NBA?

September, 8, 2009
9/08/09
11:33
AM ET
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Kevin Martin & Adam Dunn
Kevin Martin & Adam Dunn: What do these two guys have in common?
(Rocky Widner, Mitchell Layton/NBAE/Getty Images)

There probably isn't a slugger in Major League Baseball more polarizing than Adam Dunn. It's not that Dunn is a troublemaker or malcontent. Rather, it's his stats that divide baseball fans into one camp or the other.

Dunn's detractors think of him as a latter-day Rob Deer -- a .251 career batter and strikeout machine who can hit the ball out of the park, but do little else. In contrast, sabermetricians love Dunn's efficient .385 career on-base percentage and don't regard his strikeout totals or shaky fielding to be all that detrimental to his overall game. A batter who gets on base 3/8 of the time and slugs over .500? That's an All-Star caliber player, whether you're talking about Mark Teixiera, Miguel Cabrera, or Dunn.

Basketball's statistical revolution is still in its formative stages, but if you're looking for a guy whose traditional stats -- like Dunn's -- don't properly approximate his true offensive value, that man is Kevin Martin.

John Krolik, writing for SLAM, explains:
With his wonky game and his pedestrian 42% field goal percentage, it's easy to miss just how amazingly good of a scorer Martin is ...

it's Martin's True Shooting, the best indicator of scoring efficiency available, that's really incredible- his 60% TS last season is almost unprecedented for someone who scores as much as he does. Even more amazingly, that mark was Martin's lowest TS since his rookie season, and a big step down from his last two seasons, when he recorded marks of 61.4% and 61.8%. Overall, Martin has the 2nd-highest career TS among all active players, trailing only Brent Barry.

To be completely clear: 60% TS for a #1 option is INSANE. LeBron's never cracked 60%. Neither has Kobe, whose career high is 58% and average is 56%. Wade's never done it. The last season MJ did it was the 1990-91 campaign.

Martin is a great scorer not because of superior skills but through a carefully crafted strategy to get points in the most efficient way possible. In a lot of ways, the best comparison for Martin isn't a basketball player at all, but baseball's Adam Dunn. Dunn is an athletically unexciting player with some serious holes in his game, but he's a stat geek darling because of his ability to focus his hitting approach on hitting home runs and drawing walks -- he's long been one of the most statistically effective hitters in baseball despite his career batting average of .250.

By and large, on-base percentage has now been accepted by most baseball observers as a better measurement than batting average when sizing up a player. But True Shooting Percentage still has a long way to go. You don't see the stat on any NBA broadcast or spoken about on studio shows. Skeptics might point out that any stat that regards Erick Dampier and Solomon Jones as the league's two most efficient players has limited usefulness. Yet you would agree that "average points scored when a player goes up for a shot" is a far more precise stat than "percentage of shots made ... except let's leave out free throws and count 2-point baskets the same as 3-point baskets," wouldn't you?

UPDATE: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus e-mails:
Bill James used to use a stat called secondary average, which was all a player's contributions besides batting average divided by at-bats. You can use similar logic to come up with a "secondary percentage" in basketball for everything that goes into scoring besides FG%. I just take TS% minus FG% to find secondary percentage, and would you guess who was No. 1 in the league last year? The leaders:

Player Team FG% - TS% - Sec%

Kevin Martin (sac): 0.420 0.601 0.181
Chauncey Billups (den): 0.418 0.592 0.174
J.J. Redick (orl): 0.388 0.559 0.171
Brent Barry (hou): 0.407 0.575 0.168
Rudy Fernandez (por): 0.425 0.588 0.163

I actually think Billups is in some ways a better poster boy because you used to hear people say he was inefficient because of his low FG%, which was of course ridiculous.

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