Kevin Martin was aware of the impetus on his back as soon as Kevin Love was traded. The Timberwolves shooting guard helped stamp it there, declaring before training camp he must evolve into more of a focal point and a leader with the influx of young talent Minnesota received in return.
The "big brother," he called himself at the team’s media day.
Early on this season, the 31-year-old, 11-year veteran has set the pace both by example and voice.
But he’s also run into a bit of trouble along the way.
After missing the Wolves’ first game and coming off the bench in the second due to a sore ankle, Martin ranks 23rd in the NBA in scoring (19.6 points per game) and sixth in free-throw percentage (28-of-29 attempts, 96.6 percent). They’re the kind of early-season numbers that come with questions about sustainability; Martin was the league’s No. 6 scorer at this point a year ago before leveling off and finishing 22nd.
But Martin already has proven he can hit some big shots with Love no longer in the fold. He made two 3-pointers in the final 1:37 of an eventual one-point loss to Chicago, his 3 with 2:10 left in Brooklyn gave Minnesota the lead for good, and his back-to-back 3s Saturday night brought a once-20-point Miami lead to 90-86 with 4:28 remaining.
Clutch shooting is nothing new for the former King, Rocket and Thunder signed last offseason for four years and $28 million. That’s why Wolves owner Glen Taylor called him this offseason and told him he’ll be counted on as more of a leader with Love out and Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and friends in.
"He said he didn’t see himself as a natural leader, so I was talking to him about that, and I said ‘Kevin, you’re already a leader,”" Taylor said then. "’You’re a leader by example, you’ve played in so many games at the end, you know what to do with the ball, you have composure, and you don’t have to say a lot of words, but people are looking toward you.’"
So Martin’s gone out of his way to welcome the youngsters into the fold and give them pointers in games, practices and, most recently, on the road.
But he hasn’t necessarily set the best example for in-game conduct, at least not according to NBA standards.
The league fined Martin $15,000 for an "obscene gesture" after his first huge 3 late in the Bulls game. Three days later, he became the first NBA player to pick up a flopping warning this season.
Embellishing to draw fouls has long been a part of Martin’s game and is part of the reason he’s attempted the 16th-most free throws in the league since 2010. But the league would like to see him exercise more restraint moving forward.
It’d at least save him a few thousand bucks.
Rubio’s ankle swollen: The Wolves have yet to issue a timetable for injured point guard Ricky Rubio’s possible return and won’t be able to until the swelling in his left ankle subsides enough for doctors to get a closer look.
Rubio’s severely sprained left ankle will have him on crutches until sometime around Nov. 18-22, coach and president Flip Saunders has said. The good news is the injury hasn’t been characterized as a high-ankle sprain, nor have any broken bones in his foot or ankle been found.
Minnesota practiced Monday morning in Miami before flying to Mexico City, where it will face Houston in Wednesday’s NBA Global Games matchup at Mexico City Arena.