Friday Donuts: The Secret to Caleb Martin's Development, Spo's Adjustments and 'Succession' Theories
Caleb Martin is making quicker decisions, which is helping him make an impact when the Miami Heat need him most. Plus, P.J. Tucker wants you to stay home and some thoughts on 'Succession.'
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Caleb Martin is a Heat ‘Kind Of Guy’
Going into Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin, at the time shooting 31% on 3-pointers, pulled aside an assistant coach and told him he was going to have a chance to torch the Bucks from beyond the arc.
This exchange came after Miami’s most intense film session of the season. Having lost six of the previous nine games, including a Dec. 4 shellacking in Milwaukee, the Heat were reeling. Bam Adebayo just underwent a thumb procedure that will sideline him 4-6 weeks and Jimmy Butler reaggravated a nagging tailbone injury. So the Heat sought to double-down (or “10x” as coach Erik Spoelstra says) on what they do well and trim what wasn’t needed.
It was during Tuesday’s film study that Martin noticed how the Bucks defenders in last week’s loss were playing him. Rather than close out hard on his six 3-point attempts, they stopped short in order to prevent his rim attack. Martin told the Heat coaches the 3-point shot would be there for him on Wednesday.
Martin opened the game by making a pair of 3s in the first 6 1/2 minutes, and he scored 17 points in the first half. He finished Miami’s 113-104 win with 28 points on 9 for 12 shooting, including 6 for 8 from 3-point range. Once Milwaukee finally started closing out on his jumper, Martin put the ball on the ground and attacked the rim. His two dunks in the game didn’t come until the third and fourth quarters.
“I knew that was going to be the scouting report on me,” Martin said. “So I just came in mentally prepared to catch and shoot with confidence and knock them down. I didn’t want to hesitate.”
That lack of hesitation is the biggest difference in Martin’s game since the start of the season. At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Martin’s jump-over-dudes athleticism is undeniable. It is what’s kept the 26-year-old in the NBA for three seasons and landed him a two-way contract with the Heat this summer. Miami saw the potential, it was about harnassing it.
But Martin would often play out of control. He’d catch the ball and think a beat too long about whether to shoot, drive or pass, putting him in precarious positions that he’d try to climb out of with his athleticism.
Coaches have a general rule for role players: 0.5 seconds. That’s how long they have to make a decision to shoot, drive or pass. It’s a blink of an eye. Miami’s coaching staff is drilling Martin on making the simple read. If he’s open, shoot it. If the defender closes out hard, blow by him and finish at the rim.
Compared to the start of the season, Martin is playing with much more control. His decisions are snappier and he’s shooting 3s — a knock on his game for most of his career — with confidence. After Wednesday night’s 6 for 8 performance from distance Martin (a career 33% 3-point shooter) is netting 51.9% of his 3s over his last 10 games.
“I feel like the game is slowing down for me because I’m starting to read that better and make quicker decisions,” Martin said. “It has definitely been a point of emphasis.”
There’s still room to improve on that quick decision-making, but Martin has developed into a solid two-way rotation player capable of filling minutes on the wing. On Wednesday, he started in Butler’s place.
But he’s also already used 23 of the 50 games allowed under his two-way contract. Once he’s reached that limit, Martin will be relegated to the G League.
The Heat need Martin. His positional fluidity is key for their depth and the energy he plays with is infectious. This is someone who was still attempting tomahawk jams in the final minutes of a 15-point loss.
“Part of my job is bringing energy,” Martin said after Monday’s 105-90 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. “So if I’m still in the game towards the end of the game and I got five minutes left, I’m gonna play the rest of the five minutes. If I got 50 seconds left, I’m gonna play the last 50 seconds.”
Said Spoelstra a few nights later: “He’s our kind of guy.”
Whether Martin’s deal will get converted to a standard 15-man roster spot is a question of when, not if. The Heat have an open roster spot and about $400,000 of space before crossing into the luxury tax. They can sign him later in the season (in March) when a minimum contract will be prorated to the point that they would avoid the tax.
Here’s the rub: That’s 36 games from now. Martin has already played 23. The Heat need to buy Martin nine games of either being out of the rotation or in Sioux Falls before promoting him to the regular roster. Nine games isn’t life or death and the return of Butler and, eventually, Victor Oladipo, could lessen Miami’s need to play Martin every night.
But right now, the Heat are in survival mode and need Martin’s minutes. Spoelstra’s goal is to get through the next few weeks, maintain the team’s spot in the Eastern Conference standings and get healthy. Here in December, the limits of Martin’s contract are the least of anyone’s worries.
“I’m just gonna come prepared and try to take advantage of the opportunity,” Martin said. “The rest we’ll figure out when we get there.”
🍩 We all know Kyle Lowry has a high basketball IQ, but that’s not limited to his playmaking and defensive anticipation. Sometimes, you can have a smart turnover. Watch this:
Lowry loses his dribble, then knocks the ball out of bounds to force a dead ball rather than give up a transition opportunity to the spry Grizzlies. Did he do it on purpose? Or did he simply try to grab the ball back but push it out of bounds? Believe what you want, but I like to think it was intentional. (This is the sort of thing I would’ve asked Lowry about in the postgame locker room, but reporters aren’t allowed in during the pandemic. Here’s hoping we are returned that access soon and we can get the answers to these hard-hitting questions.)
🍩 Can someone explain something to me? Why does Tyler Herro keep stepping out of bounds lately? I first noticed it in last weekend’s games in Indiana and Milwaukee, and in the last four games Herro has committed six turnovers by simply stepping out of bounds. Here’s a mashup complete with circus music.
I have no idea what’s going on. Did the NBA suddenly make the courts narrower and not tell him? Did his feet grow? Should the Heat put this girl’s car on the sideline so it gets his attention?
🍩 There’s being vocal on defense, and then there's P.J. Tucker. With Adebayo sidelined, the Heat are leaning heavily on a pair of youngsters to man the center spot, Omer Yurtseven and KZ Okpala. Both need to grow up quick. Okpala saw plenty of minutes against the small-ball Bucks, and Tucker made a point to coach him through every single one of them.
During the third quarter, Okpala came over to help Tucker and double Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis saw that and kicked a pass out to Grayson Allen, who drained a wide-open 3. After, Tucker gesticulated and screamed “STAY HOME!”
He had a point. With Tucker as his primary defender, Giannis made just three of his nine shots. Tucker’s got this. Okpala (and Duncan Robinson, in this clip) were better off defending their man. As the game went on, Okpala got the message. He stayed home — usually on his man Bobby Portis — and finished the game with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 32 minutes. The Heat outscored the Bucks by a team-best 23 points with him on the court. The best game of Okpala’s young career.
🍩 Spoelstra said after Monday’s loss to Memphis that he needs to do a better job of getting the team organized. Star players such as Butler, Adebayo and Lowry don’t need organization (their improvisation is part of what makes them so special) but guys like Martin, Okpala and Max Strus do. With Butler and Adebayo absent, Spoelstra called a lot more plays than usual during Wednesday’s win.
Spo didn’t reinvent the offense. As he said before the game, he simply wanted the Heat to commit to what it is they do well. No team over the last three years has run more dribble handoffs than Miami, and so Spoelstra drew up a few to get Strus going in fourth quarter.
All four of Strus’ 3-pointers came off these actions, resulting in 16 fourth-quarter points to help put the Bucks away. Strus went to his left twice, and to his right twice. (Interestingly, he missed each of the three attempts he did not shoot after a handoff. ) This is the play usually reserved for Duncan Robinson, but with Robinson navigating an up-and-down start to the season, Spo has decided to let Strus loose.
The Water Cooler
🍩 What I’m reading: At The Ringer, Zach Kram had an insightful piece on how the relationship between shot quality (read: maximizing layups and 3s) and wins isn’t what it once was. As teams that thrive in the mid-range are having greater success, it’s causing front offices, especially those schooled in the ways of Daryl Morey, to rethink strategy. The good news for the Heat? They appear to be ahead of the new curve.
🍩 What I’m drinking: Macallan “The Harmony Collection Rich Cacao.” Big chocolate notes here created by aging this single malt in a combination of European and American oak casks. It’s an (expensive) dessert in a bottle.
🍩 What I’m reading, part II: This wonderful New Yorker profile on Jeremy Strong. As a writer, I appreciate Michael Schulman’s masterful profiling of a compelling actor. As a fan of “Succession,” whose Kendall Roy is played by Strong, I love the stories from his co-stars about how weird this dude is. There are so many great anecdotes and quotes from this piece, including how Strong doesn’t rehearse lines because he wants to feel like he’s being attacked by a bear (it only sorta makes sense). But here’s a quote from Strong: “I don’t particularly think ease or even accord are virtues in creative work, and sometimes there must even be room for necessary roughness, within the boundaries dictated by the work.” Really makes you think.
🍩 Succession plan: ** SPOILER ALERT** This is the last bit of this newsletter so if you’re not caught up on “Succession” you can leave and go about your day.
OK, so did Kendall die? At the end of the penultimate episode of Season 3, we were left with the scene of Kendall lying on a pool float with his face submerged. The idea is that he could drown. But would show-runner Jesse Armstrong really kill off the main character? My first instinct was of course not. Succession doesn’t really dabble in this sort of shock.
But as I’ve thought about it this week, isn’t that exactly why he would be dead? Every turn in this show feels incredibly earned, and if they’re gonna leave us hanging off a ledge like that, shouldn’t it have a payoff? The other thing is — and I’m not the first to make this point — is there anywhere else for Kendall’s story to go? He’s completely beaten down by the time he has dinner with his dad, Logan Roy, and is asking to cut ties with the family.
There are a lot of hints dropped throughout the episode and the season. Here’s a great collection. But here’s one I can’t stop thinking about: Kendall’s mother and ex-wife Caroline says of Logan, "He never saw anything he loved that he didn't want to kick it, just to see if it would still come back."
All season, Kendall has wanted for nothing more than to show up his old man. He’s desperate for even a single win. The fact that he hasn’t is what has driven him to an emotional edge. During the dinner scene, when Kendall asks to be bought out from the company, Logan says he’d prefer to keep him close. When it comes down to it, Logan doesn’t care if his kids love or hate him, only that they’re around.
What better way for Kendall to get that elusive win than to show his dad that, this time, he kicked too hard, and his son won’t be coming back.
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