Examining the NBA futures of Nevada alums Caleb and Cody Martin

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie took a deep dive on the Charlotte Hornets, which included a look at the futures of Wolf Pack alums Caleb and Cody Martin, two of the best players in program history who this season broke the Wolf Pack’s decade-long drought of adding a new alum to the NBA.

The Martins’ story is remarkable, both playing together at two high schools, two colleges and then ending up with the same NBA team, which just happens to be an hour away from their hometown. It’s a fairy tale, but that fairy tale only happens with a lot of hard work, dedication and with both players proving they belong in the league. That’s exactly what happened last season, the rookie campaign for both.

Cody Martin, the less heralded of the two players on the AAU, high school and college circuit, was the No. 36 pick in the 2019 draft. He appeared in 48 games last season (three starts) and averaged 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 18.8 minutes per game. He made 43 percent of his shots, 23.4 percent from three and 64.6 percent of his free throws. He validated his draft selection by ranking 15th among drafted rookies in wins over replacement (WAR), much higher than his draft pick. Martin’s defense was his standout skill during his rookie season, something that’s no surprise to Wolf Pack fans.

“Cody Martin … had a terrific rookie season for a second-round pick,” Vecenie wrote in his Hornets recap. “His defensive pressure was solid. He took on tough wing assignments and is extremely engaged both on and off the ball. He forces tougher shots than the average wing defender, and does a good job of fighting and disrupting dribble hand-offs and screening actions. The next step is becoming more active in getting his hands on the ball. Martin only averaged about 2.4 deflections per 36 minutes, which was middle of the pack on the Hornets.

“On offense, Martin is definitely still the multi-positional, multi-faceted player he was at Nevada, where he played point guard and was generally just a problem solver for them. He moves the ball extremely well and reads the second level of the defense at a high level. He knows how to warp defenses and create open shots for teammates off of drives or ball reversals. The big key here, though, is going to be the jumper. Martin hit just 23.4 percent from 3, and teams just totally sag off of him because they don’t think he’s a threat out there.”

Vecenie points out the Hornets were seven points better per 100 possessions with Cody Martin on the court than with him off the court, which shows his impact extends beyond the typical stats most fans look at.

Caleb Martin’s path to get on an NBA roster was more difficult. He was undrafted but signed a free-agent deal with the Hornets, at least giving him a potential path to making the 15-man roster despite missing summer league due to injury. He had a strong training camp and exhibition season and was elevated to an NBA contract before spending much of the year with the G League’s Greensboro Swarm where he averaged 21.4 points per game on efficient shooting.

In 18 games with the Hornets (one start), he averaged 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 17.6 minutes per game while shooting 44 percent from the field, 54.1 percent from three and 81 percent from the free throw line.

“The idea behind Caleb Martin is that he can be an offensive bench player who can knock down shots from distance and use his size to guard a variety of different player types,” Vecenie wrote in his Hornets recap. “He doesn’t really bring enough other skills to the table for me to totally trust him, but he did average over 20 points per game in the G League while being a wing. That’s often enough — having positional size and shooting ability — but I don’t know that I buy into Martin being anything more than a shooter.”

Caleb Martin’s 0.5 WAR (in limited games) ranked tied for 21st among rookies. His box-score plus-minus (how many points the team is better or worse than the opponent when he’s on the court) ranked fifth on the team compared to Cody Martin’s ranking of ninth. While Cody Martin ranked first on the team in defensive box-score plus-minus, Caleb Martin was third, so he did add defensive value in addition to that tremendous 3-point shooting, all in small samples.

Both Martins are under contract for next season for $1,517,981, although Caleb’s deal is not guaranteed (his additional year will almost certainly be picked up). Both will turn 25 later this month, so expecting huge growth ahead might be unrealistic. But both have drawn rave reviews from their Charlotte’s top brass.

Said GM Mitch Kupchak: “It’s been a pleasure to have both of those guys on this team. They’re incredibly competitive, they play hard, they work hard. They recognize there’s still some things they need to work on. They’re in the gym during the hiatus. I’ve heard rumors in Southpark that they were seen running in the neighborhood. Until they took the rims down, they were on the public courts.”

Added coach James Borrego: “They affect the entire group with how hard they play, the passion they play with, the resiliency and the defense. They’re core culture guys for us. I think they’re keepers and they’re going to just keep getting better.”

Again, this is no surprise to Wolf Pack fans, who got to watch the Martins play for two seasons. Not only were they special players at Nevada, they were special people and culture builders. The key for young players in the NBA is getting that second contract, the one that’s typically the big pay day. At Nevada, guys like Ramon Sessions, JaVale McGee and Luke Babbitt were able to do so while guys like Armon Johnson, Nick Fazekas and Kirk Snyder were out of the league before their rookie contracts expired.

Both Martin twins carved out potential long-term NBA niches this season, with Cody being the defensive stopper who needs to continue his presence from beyond the perimeter and Caleb being a scoring jolt off the bench who needs to continue to round out the rest of his game. Both have paths to getting that second contract. Each took a step in that direction during their rookie season.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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