Key Heat Rotation Player’s College Coach Sounds Off: ‘Won’t Back Down’

Caleb Martin (left) with Eric Musselman (center) and Cody Martin, in 2018.

Getty Caleb Martin (left) with Eric Musselman (center) and Cody Martin, in 2018.

He is one of the many surprises in what has been a revealing NBA season for the Miami Heat, who now lead the Eastern Conference finals series over the Celtics, 2-1, after an eye-opening Game 3 win in Boston on Saturday. Remember, not long ago, forward Caleb Martin had many in Miami were wringing their hands over what his future would hold, as he played critical early-season minutes while on a two-way contract that limited the number of appearances he could make for the team.

Things have worked out, to say the least.

In February, Martin had his contract converted to a standard deal, and has been a rotation regular for the Heat, including tallying eight points in 10 minutes in that important win in Boston. Martin played a career-high 22.9 minutes this season, averaging 9.2 points on 50.7% shooting, and 41.3% shooting from the 3-point line. It was his first season playing away from his twin brother, Cody, who is still with the Hornets (Caleb played alongside him for two years in Charlotte) after the pair were side-by-side all through high school and college.

According to his college coach, breaking away from Cody was a big factor in Caleb Martin establishing his own NBA identity—and it could not have happened in a better place than Miami.

“No doubt, Miami was the best place for him to wind up,” said former Nevada coach Eric Musselman, who coached the Martin twins before they moved on to the NBA (and he moved on to Arkansas). “For one thing, it was the first time those guys have been separated and for Cody to be able to stay at home and Caleb to go to Miami, an absolutely perfect fit. I think those guys in the organization, Spo (coach Erik Spoelstra) and coach (Pat) Riley, they value guys who play really, really hard and have toughness.

“The Martin twins, they won’t back down from anybody, nobody.”


Caleb Martin’s Defense Has Grown With Heat

No question, what contributed most to Martin getting a chance to play for the Heat early in the year was the raft of injuries and COVID-19 cases the team suffered in the opening three months of the season. But what made him standout was not only his ability to knock down 3-pointers, but his defense, which was not always a strength. That, Musselman said, was something that Cody Martin had but Caleb Martin did not, at least not till he joined the Heat.

Cody was an “elite” defender, even in college. “Caleb is more offensive-minded,” Musselman said. “Offensively, Caleb can really get hot, can really get streaky. Caleb is probably a better athlete than his brother. He came to Nevada as a scorer and did not work on his defense. By the time he left Nevada, he was a good defender and I think when he went to Miami, that changed even more for him, where he is an excellent defender now.”

He was also much more offensively efficient, boosting his shooting from his two years in Charlotte, when he shot just 39.1% from the field and 31.5% from the 3-point line. Perfecting a role as a 3-and-D wing will ensure that Martin will have a solid NBA career.


Free Agency Awaits Undervalued Caleb Martin

That will be one of the next questions for Martin in Miami. After the team scrambled to keep him on the roster this season, he will be a restricted free-agent next season and the Heat will have competition to keep him in place, though they are expected to make sure he stays and can match offers for him.

It does beg the question, though: Shouldn’t NBA teams have been better aware of what Martin can do before this season? The Hornets, after all, waived him last summer. In the 2019 NBA draft, Cody Martin was picked in the second round but Caleb was not picked at all. The twins probably would not have had an NBA future if they had not transferred to Nevada from North Carolina State, where they went on an impressive Sweet 16 NCAA tournament run as seniors.

By then, though, the pair was 23, viewed as ancient in draft scouting circles.

“Coming out of the draft, they got overlooked,” Musselman said. “Maybe because they were at a mid-major, they had been at N.C. State, then transferred, maybe because of their age, But all those things are helping them now—when they went to their first training camp, I remember talking to their head coach and he said, ‘Hey, they’re really mature, they really understand offense.’ Rookies who come too young and are not first-rounders, they are not on great contracts, they are out of the league quickly.”

Things have changed, though, for Caleb Martin, and his brother as well.

“They are not undervalued with personnel people now,” Musselman said.

 

 

 

 

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