Kevin Martin for Zero (Minutes in the Fourth), Rashad McCants for Three

Before we get too deep into this thing, the elephant in the room -- Kevin Martin's zero fourth quarter minutes -- needs to be addressed. The early Associated Press said the team indicated Martin had not been injured prior to the fourth. Kenny Natt indicated otherwise in his post-game comments.

"Kevin had been out and twisted his ankle early," Natt said. "He wanted to stay in since he was loose. Then when he sat out, I brought the other guys in, and he just got really stiff. So I decided to just keep him out."

Asked if he reconsidered the decision when the shots weren't falling, Natt said he had.

"I gave it thought to bring him back in, but he was just too stiff," Natt said.

Martin didn't talk to reporters, but did send a text message to Sam Amick:

"I would have loved to play in the fourth," he wrote. "I believe in coach (Natt). He made the right decision. That group was playing well, and they earned the right to finish out the game."

So who knows. Someone from the team told reporters Martin was not benched due to injury. Natt said the opposite. Martin avoided the initial media scrum and gave a vague quote that both indicated he wanted to play and that he's not upset with Natt. Take it however you want. Natt seems to be a stand-up guy, and wouldn't lie about something fairly obvious to save himself from a controversy. But again, who knows? (Ailene Voisin does not.)

Anyways ...


Final - 3.10.2009 1 2 3 4 Total
Oklahoma City Thunder 27 28 29 15 99
Sacramento Kings 26 29 21 22 98

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The fourth-quarter unit actually did play well ... on defense. Sort of. The Thunder killed themselves with turnovers (11 in 24 posessions, which is completely unbelievable) and poor shooting (6-for-18). One way to judge the efficacy of the Sacramento defense in creating those turnovers is to look at Sacramento's steals. (It's not perfect -- you can have unforced turnovers leading to steals and good defense leading instead to non-steal turnovers, including offensive fouls. But it's a decent indicator.) Those 11 OKC turnovers in the fourth produced three steals for Sacramento. Not a lot of fast-breaking there.

The Kings could have won a variety of ways -- this is the proverbial "right there on the table" sort of game. Andres Nocioni had as open a shot as he'll ever get to tie the game late. He grazed the rim. Spencer Hawes missed a baseline dunk on one of his precious few late-game possessions. Bobby Jackson had a huge three pop out. The turnovers killed. (The turnovers always kill.) The awful two-point shooting in the fourth (3-11) killed. The inability to get to the line hurt. Could Martin have fixed any of that without giving up an equal or greater amount on the other end? Who do you insert him for -- the point guard? Rashad McCants? Nocioni? Francisco Garcia? That's part of the problem, I imagine, supposing Martin wasn't too hurt, as Martin has indicated. Who would Natt take out in that situation? Everyone had contributed something important, except for Bobby Jackson. Can you afford to run out a big line-up with Garcia and a potentially gimpy Martin sharing point guard duties?

Notice I leave McCants out of that last sentence -- because he's not sharing point guard duties with anyone. I don't mean to be glib, and I hate harping on well-entrenched points, but McCants does not pass the ball. Martin averages almost twice as many assists as McCants per-minute, and Martin is well known to be a less-than-stellar passer. If McCants runs the offense for one play, I can almost guarantee it will end in a McCants shot. And hey, that's fine -- he is what he is. But it's virtually assured that he and Martin can never play together without a point guard also on the floor. If Martin and McCants make up your guard line-up, the other three dudes might as well set a pick and get back on defense. This is not meant to demean the offensive prowess of either -- it's just a fact of their existences. They will rarely earn assists. (Martin is, of course, getting better at this. He has a long way to go ... and I'm not sure I want him headed in that direction.)

We (?) need to keep this in mind come July, when McCants is eligible for a contract or a match of an offer sheet. He basically cannot play alongside your best player, unless you want to give up a ton of power at the small forward. (Martin at small forward on offense is fine. Defense? With your two-guard -- McCants -- giving up 4-5 inches already? Egads.) Considering your best player gives 38 minutes a night, you need to understand how much you'll be able to utilize the admittedly lovely talent of said incompatible role player.

I say all this as McCants shoots 58% as a King, and is the only King beside Martin to average more than 20 points per 36 minutes. He has a PER over 20 as a King. He has been an absolute monster, McTenacity in the flesh. McCants has been a hero, more so than Nocioni. Maybe this is too far toward theoryball, and maybe we need to see it in action more. But I just can't fathom a way in which you can play he and Martin together without giving up the bank on defense, except against specifically small line-ups. Can you?

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