He had become, behind Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, the third-most critical factor in the Knicks’ second-half stabilization and ensuing dominance.
The Knicks’ back story all season has been age and injury, both of which opened the door for the yearning, yet almost-retired Martin (aged and oft-injured himself) to step in at the trade deadline.
Martin was picked up for insurance—before Amar’e Stoudemire went down—to shore up the rest of the wounded.
The result? Martin has essentially plugged the holes of five players and two positions over 18 games, 11 of which were during the 13-game win streak.
“With Marcus Camby (left plantar fasciitis), Rasheed Wallace (fractured left foot), Kurt Thomas (right foot stress reaction) and Amar’e Stoudemire (right knee surgery) out, Tyson Chandler sat [against the Washington Wizards] with a reoccurance of soreness from a bulging disc in his neck that recently kept him out of 10 games.” (via New York Post)
Martin has been starting in Chandler’s place: against the Wizards, in nine of the 11 games he played during the streak and two losses out West.
Though signed to a 10-day contract on Feb. 23, Martin saw action only once during its term—in the Feb. 27 win against the Golden State Warriors.
But with all the big men (but Stoudemire) hurting, he signed a second 10-day contract.
He became a permanent addition and game-impacting fixture when Stoudemire got hurt again on March 7. Since that time, Martin has played in 17 of the Knicks’ 19 games.
He has averaged 24 minutes per game, more than he did with the Los Angeles Clippers last year. Martin’s line per 36 minutes yields a more-than-respectable 11 points and eight rebounds (including 2.8 on the offensive end, second-best in his career).
His defensive play and fleetness, while not equal to his peak years, has been surprisingly youthful. He is blocking and stealing, at least statistically, as well as he ever did.
Martin has provided more than numbers, though. He has boosted team morale at just the right time. The Chicago Tribune took notice,
Kenyon Martin again sparked the team he joined a month ago … provid[ing] big plays on both ends of the court and an intensity the Knicks have needed. "It is contagious, but again, all I have ever known of him is that he plays with high energy and sometimes that rubs off," Mike Woodson said of Martin. "Our defense has really picked up because he talks a lot and knows defensive rotations. He has been a major plus."
The Knicks, behind GM Glen Grunwald, have been masters of the cheap, underestimated free-agent pickup during the last year. Well, they have to be.
Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Wallace have all contributed mightily at one point or another to the 50-plus season the Knicks, and their fans, are enjoying. All came relatively cheap.
For the first half of 2012-13, one could have argued that Wallace ($1.3M) was the NBA’s best value free-agent pickup.
But what makes Martin’s stint superior is timing (and he’s cheaper at about $430K). Wallace was signed to plug the hole left by Stoudemire early in the year. Martin came to plug the holes left by Wallace, Camby and Thomas, then filled in for Stoudemire and Chandler, too.
Martin joined just as the Knicks were falling apart—right after a four-game losing streak that straddled the all-star break. He started getting the nod in the midst of the Knicks’ horrific West Coast trip and helped turn things around.
The Knicks are 13-5 with Martin in the lineup and are now at their hottest heading into the postseason.
What about other free-agent pickups around the league? How does Martin’s impact compare with other value signings?
But neither they, nor any of the other cheap, one-year deals on the complete list of 2012-13 free-agent transactions have been nearly as essential as Martin has been to the Knicks (or Wallace early on for that matter).
Alas, Martin's season might be over. Or it might not be.
New York has been so clandestine about injuries that no one has any true idea of the severity of Martin’s injury or when he’ll be back.
The Knicks aren’t taking any chances. They’ve plucked James Singleton from China and will let Thomas go, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News,
Kurt Thomas will be released to create a roster spot for James Singleton, Daily News has learned. KT will have right foot surgery next week— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) April 10, 2013
But hopefully, Martin will be back for Round 1 where he will have the chance to cement his legacy as the best value free-agent pickup of 2012-13—and perhaps even earn a slightly more valuable contract for 2013-14.
He’s only 35. That’s like a kid in Knick years.