Minnesota Timberwolves: Kelan Martin’s up-and-down rookie year

Jarrett Culver, Kelan Martin, and James Johnson of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jarrett Culver, Kelan Martin, and James Johnson of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Rookie two-way forward Kelan Martin has had somewhat of a rocky rookie year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but it certainly wasn’t all his fault.

Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Kelan Martin played four years at Butler and spent a season in Germany last year after going undrafted. Following a strong performance for the Wolves at Las Vegas Summer League, Martin was signed to a two-way contract, allowing him to spend 45 days at the NBA level.

However, Martin’s rookie year in the NBA has been decidedly up and down, although it hasn’t all been his fault.

At face value and by looking at strictly stats, you’d probably open this up thinking that’s an incorrect statement. Let’s give things some context.

Role definition is huge for rookies. Often, they play minimal roles that could be highly stressful where you have to make the most of every minute due to them being few and far between. Roles can vary and be highly volatile, yet there’s a safe haven in practice where you’re able to put more and more things together and develop as the season goes on.

Because of the rules of two-way contracts, they may miss out on that safe haven. The 45-day limit doesn’t include travel days, but does include both practices and games. Since Minnesota entrusted a regular role to Martin, he’s often been held out of practices. Considering that he played in 31 games, and was likely to be playing in the rest of the season’s games before he got injured and the NBA went on hiatus, one could reasonably assume that he may have only had one or two practices.

That’s only one or two days, if any, to get adjusted to what the pace of the team is, what the teams sets look like, etc. Our own Brendon Hedtke discussed this dynamic with fellow two-way player Jordan McLaughlin in their interview. The only familiarity from a practice perspective that Martin got with the team was playing in a system that mirrored the team’s when he was in the G League with the Iowa Wolves. That is something, but not quite the same as actually practicing with the big club.

Add that to the mental stress of role uncertainty that can get to players, it would be understandable that a player could struggle to get established in the league. Not Kelan Martin.

As mentioned, Martin’s offense may have not caught up to the NBA level but his defense did.  Martin was towards the top of the team in defensive rating with a 103.1 rating. For perspective, Gorgui Dieng had a 102.6 rating and defensive ace Treveon Graham had a 108.9 rating. Again, it may not show in the box score, but this is impressive considering that Martin was given little chance to get use to his teammates, especially when the team was basically remade at the deadline, via practice.

Something impressive worth noting was that when Jake Layman struggled while shaking off rust post-injury and was working through a minutes limitation, there seemed to be a point where Martin overtook him as the second forward off the bench. Unfortunately, the young forward wasn’t able to capitalize on the opportunity, spraining his ankle in his first five minutes of the game against the Orlando Magic.

There’s plenty of reasons to think that Martin’s offense will come once he gets adjusted to the NBA. His G League shooting stats were 47.7 percent field goals, 37.7 percent on 3-point attempts, and 76.9 percent on his free throws while scoring 18.4 points per game.

When you realize that Martin hasn’t had many, if any practices to adjust to the NBA level of play, coaching, and his teammates or gain confidence, it starts to explain the offensive drop off.

Next year, if Martin is brought back on an NBA deal and given actual practice time and role stability, the youngster’s confidence could boom and he could prove to be a key cog that fills the hole of a 3-and-D forward that the Wolves could use.

Next. Should the Timberwolves re-sign Malik Beasley?. dark

As far as looking at his rookie season, it should be a success considering he was basically playing with a metaphorical one arm tied behind his back.