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Rockets 2022-2023 player previews: KJ Martin

Martin requested a trade in the offseason and Houston is loaded at forward. Where does that leave him this year?

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Even though Kenyon Martin Jr. has improved each of his first two years, his place on this year's Houston Rockets team is still in doubt. See the previous statements by Martin Jr.'s father and former NBA player Kenyon Martin Sr. and recent reports from Kelly Iko of The Athletic on KJ Martin's status with the team.

On the court

KJ Martin's minutes went down last year, which may have prompted some of the recent reports about a possible trade out of Houston. Last year, Martin Jr.'s minutes per game went down to 21 from 23.7.

His shooting also slightly dropped. In 2020-2021, he made 36.7 percent from three-point range, and in the last few weeks, he was shooting even better. Last year it dropped to 35.7 percent on the same amount of attempts. On the plus side, his overall percentage went up from 50.9 to 53.3 percent, which is a good sign considering Martin Jr. plays more around the basket than the arc.

His points per game and blocked shots per game were down, but that can be attributed to his drop in minutes. Martin Jr. was still the best weakside shot blocker on the team and the best cutter. The issue is not necessarily about his play on the court. The problem comes from the Rockets’ log jam at small forward and power forward.

Martin Jr. did come into the game Sunday earlier than most people expected as the first forward off the bench. The issue is right now, the Rockets have Jae' Sean Tate, Eric Gordon, Tari Eason, Garrison Mathews, possibly Usman Garuba playing some power forward minutes, and of course, Jabari Smith. At some point this season, all will play minutes at small forward or power forward.

The Rockets do not seem to be in a hurry to move on from Martin Jr. With this only being his third year in the league and the fact that he was a late second-round pick, the Rockets may not be able to get value in a KJ Martin Jr. trade. That is part of the problem with the log jam at the forward spots. Even with an Eric Gordon trade and Mathews either losing his place in the rotation or possibly being cut, minutes will be hard to come by with the emergence of Eason.

During the pregame press conference before the first preseason game, Coach Silas mentioned that you shouldn't take too much from the rotation in the preseason. That means Martin Jr.'s early entry into the last game could be the Rockets spreading around minutes in an early preseason game.

Where does that leave KJ?

There are areas Martin Jr. has to work on. His ball handling skills, improving his three-point shot, and being a better one-on-one defender are at the top of the list. As mentioned earlier, KJ Martin still brings valuable skills to the Rockets.

He gives them vertical spacing, great weakside shot blocking, and is one of, if not best, cutters on the team. However, the Rockets have a lot to figure out before the season starts, with the roster currently at 19. They have to reduce that number to 15 before the beginning of the regular season. Barring trade, KJ likely makes that group. Where he goes from there is up for grabs.