With Kevin Love now plying his trade in Cleveland and the next generation of Minnesota Timberwolves stars still very much in the gestation stage, Kevin Martin entered this season as Flip Saunders' top scoring option. The veteran shooting guard has relished the role, scoring a team-leading 20.4 points in just 29.8 minutes per game, a per-minute mark that ranks as the second-best of his 11-year career, thanks to sterling early-season shooting percentages — a career-best 48.3 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from 3-point land, plus 87.5 percent from the foul line on 5.3 attempts per game. For the next few weeks, though, the Wolves will have to look elsewhere for scoring punch.
The Timberwolves announced Friday that Martin will be sidelined indefinitely after an MRI revealed that he had suffered a fractured right (shooting) wrist during the Wolves' Wednesday meeting with the New York Knicks. The bad break occurred with 6:48 remaining in the opening quarter at Target Center:
Whether Martin sustained the injury on the contact made by Knicks point guard Shane Larkin or when bracing himself while falling to the ground near the Wolves' bench remains unclear. What's indisputable, however, is that Martin — who made the 3-point try but missed the ensuing free throw, giving him six points at that stage in the game — went on to score 31 more points on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 5-for-8 mark from 3-point range, with a broken shooting wrist en route to a season-high 37 in Minnesota's 115-99 win. (Not exactly the most stirring endorsement for the Knicks' defense, which ranks 28th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possession.)
As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes, this isn't the first time that Martin has broken a wrist in the midst of a scoring explosion. He suffered a "nondisplaced hairline fracture of the navicular bone" during a 48-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies while a member of the Sacramento Kings back in 2009, and played two nights later, scoring 29 points in 40 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks. That injury was to his left (non-shooting) wrist, though, and Martin went on to miss nearly 2 1/2 months after having surgery to repair the fracture.
It remains unclear whether Martin will have surgery this time around — "Further evaluation will be done over the next few days to determine the next course of action," the Wolves' statement said — but whether he goes under the knife or opts for an immobilizing cast, it's unlikely that he'll be back on the court within the next month or month and a half. That's yet another blow to a Wolves team that's already operating without three starters — point guard Ricky Rubio, who remains sidelined after severely spraining his left ankle on Nov. 7; center Nikola Pekovic, shelved with a sprained right wrist; and power forward Thaddeus Young, who has left the team temporarily following the death of his mother. Missing four starters is never a good thing, but it seems especially problematic heading into a matchup with the defending champions, as the Wolves will be Friday night, when they host the San Antonio Spurs.
his reluctance to move Brewer, citing him as the kind of player teams win with, even if the Wolves aren't likely to be a winning team any time soon.It'll be interesting to see how head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders manages Martin's absence. Some might view the foreseeable-future loss of the leading scorer on a 3-7 team that ranks in the bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency as an opportunity to hasten an already-in-progress rebuilding process by jettisoning any veteran contributors the Wolves have in exchange for potential future assets. (We're looking at you, Corey Brewer.) But Saunders has been very vocal about
In that case, then, does Brewer slide into the starting lineup in Martin's place alongside Andrew Wiggins on the wing in an attempt to stabilize Minnesota's perimeter defense, trying to stay afloat until the Wolves start to get their vets back and give Flip the healthy bodies he'll need for that tilting-at-windmills play for a postseason slot? Or does Saunders view two months without Martin as the sort of tipping point that provides enough cover for dealing and, say, a marked increase in minutes for sophomore Shabazz Muhammad, who has looked like a much more intriguing prospect in the early stages of this season than he did for the bulk of his rookie campaign?
How Saunders responds to Martin's unfortunate diagnosis remains to be seen, but in the short term, it's an awful bad break for a treading-water Timberwolves team that doesn't seem to get any other kind of breaks these days. At least there are some youngsters waiting in the wings (and on the wing) to make a name for themselves, and at least Martin's early-season scoring surge ended with a bang rather than a whimper.
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