SALT LAKE CITY – After the Timberwolves’ 112-102 victory over Utah on Monday night, the last three players in the locker room were Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington and Kelan Martin.
Towns and Covington took the opportunity to let the rookie know that postgame dinner and drinks were on him — and they were going to order the expensive stuff. Towns looked at Martin’s shoes, concluded they were new and surmised that Martin’s checks must be clearing.
Welcome to the NBA, Kelan Martin.
The undrafted rookie out of Butler was all smiles as he took the ribbing in stride. He had just completed the best game of his young career, going 6-for-7 for 14 points, with seven coming in the final quarter as the Wolves pulled away from the Jazz.
“I’ve seen the open lane, so I just try to shoot my floaters like I’ve usually been doing,” Martin said. “The past couple of games I haven’t been knocking down threes or whatever, so I just wanted to be aggressive getting to the basket. That opened my game up more.”
It had been a slow start to Martin’s NBA career — he was only 4-for-18 in the three games he played before Monday. But those shooting woes went away, especially in the fourth quarter. It started when he nailed a corner three on an assist from Jeff Teague.
Teague is no stranger to Martin, who worked out at Teague’s gym in Indianapolis over the summer. Teague reflected the rest of the Wolves in saying he knew Martin could have a night like this.
“I just know him. I know he’s a knockdown shooter,” Teague said. “He might’ve missed some in the last couple of games and fans didn’t know, people don’t know [he’s a shooter]. They haven’t seen him. But we know around here. There’s a reason he’s up here. There’s a reason he plays and he can shoot the basketball.”
Martin was a 35% three-point shooter for his career at Butler and he impressed the Wolves in summer league by shooting 49% there. That helped earn him a two-way contract with the Wolves — meaning he can spend a maximum of 45 days on the NBA roster, with the bulk of his time in the G League — and some minutes while Andrew Wiggins has been out and after Jake Layman exited Monday’s game because of a left foot injury.
Martin could see more action Wednesday, in a rematch with Utah at Target Center. Layman is listed as doubtful while Wiggins (illness) and Josh Okogie (left knee soreness) are questionable to play.
Towns said Martin, a 6-5 forward, has one of the best shots on the team.
“We knew he’s a bona fide scorer, and a shooter especially. He’s the most fundamental shot we have on this team,” Towns said. “I always call him fundamental. He reminds me of Jamal Crawford. He only needs to see one go in and he’s hot.”
Martin said he had no second thoughts about taking his shots.
“I got my confidence back,” Martin said. “I never really lost it, but I got a game under my belt and now I just feel good.”
Martin employed an effective weapon he has in his arsenal — his floater. Twice in the fourth quarter Martin drove the lane, saw center Rudy Gobert there and pulled up in front of him, nailing those floaters. He has also been adjusting to how the Wolves want him to shoot. At Butler, he said the ball was in his hands a lot.
Now, he is shooting more catch-and-shoot threes, like the one he hit from Teague in the fourth.
If Martin can emerge, he could be a significant find for President Gersson Rosas. To coach Ryan Saunders, his signing is already paying dividends. The shorthanded Wolves were in danger of falling to 7-7 with a three-game losing streak. Instead they moved to 8-6 and handed the Jazz their first home defeat all season, with Martin playing an important role.
“He was in Iowa a few days ago and he stayed ready, ready for his opportunity …” Saunders said. “Huge credit to Gersson and the front office this summer in that find because it definitely helped us win a game.”