The Microscope: Kenyon Martin Defends the Wing and More

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterMay 8, 2012

DENVER, CO - APRIL 18:  Kenyon Martin #2 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts late in the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on April 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Clippers defeated the Nuggets 104-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.

Kenyon Martin's still got it

One of the many pleasant surprises of this year's postseason: Kenyon Martin's ability to occasionally cover wing defenders in crucial situations for the Clippers. Caron Butler has generally done a good job against Rudy Gay, but when Los Angeles has desperately needed a stop at the end of games against a set Memphis offense, Vinny Del Negro has gone to Martin almost exclusively.

Pitting an out-of-position 34-year-old against one of the most ridiculous athletes in the league would seem like a self-destructive maneuver, but Martin has more than held his own by pegging Gay's tendencies and anticipating his next move.

Martin has long been praised for his work as a physical post defender, but perhaps not enough credit was given for his versatility. Even at his age, Martin is no stiff, and his active hands allow him to bother his opponent's dribble and shot in its intermediate stages, while his length hinders his opponent's release.

It wouldn't make sense for either Martin or the Clippers to have him at the nominal 3 for longer stretches in order to bother top perimeter threats (nor would it make all that much sense in a potential second-round series against a San Antonio team that relegates most of its wings to cutting and spot-up duty), but this kind of usage is perfect. It gives an opponent's particularly capable scorer a very different look at the end of games, allowing for a shuffle without conceding any defensive ground.

Kudos to Martin for some fine defensive play, and kudos to Vinny Del Negro for a rare bit of cleverness.

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SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 29:  Tiago Splitter #22 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 29, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
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Spurs bring the fourth-quarter fun

Just before the Utah Jazz made their impressive—but ultimately futile—fourth-quarter surge on Monday night, San Antonio ran out a lineup of Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Danny Green, and Matt Bonner. There was no Tim Duncan, no Tony Parker and no conventional point guard of any kind to speak of. Just a trio of players who can handle the ball and make smart passes, and a pair of bigs who balance one another with inside-out production.

That grouping only stayed on the court for two minutes early in the fourth quarter, but over that span they were able to run beautiful pick-and-roll after beautiful pick-and-roll. The spacing was perfect, the defense was sound and over that tiny sample size, San Antonio was monstrously efficient.

Naturally, the success of that mix isn't wholly sustainable (scoring at a rate of 232.6 points per 100 possessions tends to send that signal), but it's incredible how effective the Spurs can be with virtually any combination of players on the floor.

Gregg Popovich legitimately went 10-men deep into his rotation on Monday night without even clearing out his deep reserves, and yet his crew of purposefully assembled parts managed to be interchangeable while maintaining complete uniqueness.

This is roster flexibility at its finest, and that we get to see the Spurs—who are so often viewed as some old-world vestige—at their adaptive finest has been one of this season's unique pleasures.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 15:  Forward Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts during a 90-105 loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 15, 2011 at Oklahoma City Aren
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Zach Randolph is hardly himself

We can watch Zach Randolph run the floor, post up and isolate on the wing and think he's every bit the same the player he was last season, but Randolph's work on the inside provides a very different indication.

According to NBA.com, Randolph has converted just 54.2 percent of his 24 attempts within five feet thus far this postseason. That in itself may not be all that damning for a player who can occasionally be smothered inside, but the nature of Randolph's misses this time around have been quite different.

Z-Bo isn't failing to get the ball over the outstretched arms of DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin or Blake Griffin—he's whiffing on supposedly sure makes after his teammates have set him up with wide-open opportunities.

There's no convincing explanation for this bizarre ineffectiveness, save that Randolph—whether due to injury or simply prolonged absence—still isn't completely comfortable with his attempts inside, to the extent that even unguarded looks have become oddly problematic.

Many things are troubling within the Grizzlies' offense in a more general sense, but Randolph's uncharacteristic interior play stands out as a more curious issue. We expected Memphis to have a bit of trouble when they're forced to execute against a set defense, but who could have reasonably predicted the highly-efficient Randolph consistently missing the easiest shots in basketball?

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