Earlier this week, the Cavs reportedly signed former first-round pick Jarell Martin to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the expectation that he’d compete for a roster spot in training camp. So what does he have to offer the Cavs, and how could he fit in?
Martin, 25, is a 6’10” power forward from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In high school, he was a McDonald’s All-American and was named Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2013. He attended college at LSU, spending two seasons there with career averages of 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
After his sophomore year, he declared for the draft and was selected No. 25 overall by the Grizzlies in 2015. Martin only appeared in 27 games as a rookie — a total of 380 minutes — before appearing in 42 games in year two and 73 in year three. He also spent some time with the Iowa Energy in the G-League during the 2016-17 season.
In his third NBA season, Martin averaged 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.6 percent from the field in 22.8 minutes per game. After that season, as he headed into the last year of his rookie deal, he was traded to the Magic with cash considerations in exchange for Dakari Johnson and the draft rights to Tyler Harvey. With the Magic last season, he appeared in 42 games — largely in garbage time — with averages of 2.7 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
It’s hard to gauge exactly what Martin is as an NBA player. He’s played one full NBA season where he put up in decent numbers, but not stats that indicate that he’s a future key rotation piece. In that season, he rated out as a slight negative on defense and as a clear negative on offense. His shot chart from the 2017-18 season shows some potential, but poor finishing at the rim:
Last year, however, his shot chart was better, albeit in a much smaller sample size:
Martin’s tape paints a similar picture. He’s willing to take three-pointers and, at least in his time last year, plays with effort. Even if his three-point shot is inconsistent, he does the run floor well and knows when to slide into open space:
Defensively, there’s some potential there. He’s got a 6’9” wingspan and at least tries on defense, even if he’s not technically sound:
And he has some potential to be a switchable big:
he major caveat with Martin is that his one full season didn’t scream that he’s a legit rotation piece in the NBA, but he looked like an interesting prospect in more limited minutes last year. The other concern is that he’s not a good rebounder despite being 6’10” and 240 pounds.
Martin’s upside is showcased in his limited minutes with the Magic last year. If the Cavs think he can translate that production into 15-20 minutes per game, he’s someone the Cavs can give some run to to see if he’s just a really late bloomer. He’d likely be best served getting some minutes with a strong rebounding partner in the frontcourt who can handle rim protection. Someone like Tristan Thompson, actually.
The question is how much potential he has, and how that compares to two-way signee Dean Wade, who is three years younger. Martin probably has more defensive potential, but Wade looks like he’s going to have a better, if similar, inside-outside game with more skill moving the ball and doing a bit of playmaking. So while Martin has some upside, is it worth having both him and Wade around?
Martin is competing with three other players for the Cavs’ 14th roster spot, as the team isn’t expected to carry 15 players going into the season. Going into training camp, he’s expected to be competing against ex-Clipper Sindarius Thornwell, Exhibit 10 signee J.P. Macura and summer league standout Marques Bolden. The team could, and probably will, add other bodies to the training camp roster. Currently, the Cavs have 17 players on the training camp roster (Wade, as a two-way guy, doesn’t count) and can have as many as 20.
If Martin is going to stick, it’ll be because he outperforms everyone else in camp. He would seem likeliest to be competing against Thornwell, who might already be the best wing defender on the Cavs and has a track record of being a useful NBA player. Right now, Thornwell probably is the clubhouse leader to make the roster.
That could mean Thornwell ends up on a two-way deal. But again, would the Cavs have him and Wade on two-way deals? That might limit his odds of sticking in Cleveland beyond the end of training camp.