Tough Decisions Ahead for Miami Heat on Surprising 2-Way Forward

Caleb Martin, Miami Heat

Getty Caleb Martin, Miami Heat

He has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the early season for the Miami Heat. Third-year forward Caleb Martin, waived by Charlotte in August after two years with the Hornets, was nabbed by the Heat in September on a two-way deal, no doubt in part because Miami’s brass had in mind a 19-point, four-steal game Martin posted against Miami in March 2020, in the Hornets’ final game before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the NBA.

Martin has shown the Heat the same kind of aggressiveness, especially on the defensive end, that they saw that night. So, as injuries—mainly to backup wing Max Strus—have forced coach Erik Spoelstra to tinker with his rotation, he has found himself increasingly relying on Martin, a rare circumstance for a two-way player.

On Thursday, with Jimmy Butler out against the Clippers, Martin made his seventh straight appearance for the Heat, getting major minutes even after Strus returned. It’s good that the team can rely on him, but there is a downside here: As a two-way player, Martin is limited to 50 games with the Heat and must spend the rest of the season with Miami’s G League affiliate in Sioux Falls.

That’s a tough restriction on a guy who has already worked his way into Spo’s good graces. “He has experience,” Spoelstra said last month. “I feel right now he’s a plug-and-play guy. We all feel very comfortable with that. … I feel like he’s a great 3-and-D guy that can just fit right in,” Spoelstra said. “So he’ll be ready. He’s really been working.”

Caleb Martin Must Miss at Least 29 Remaining Heat Games

Martin has now played nine of the 50 games he is allowed with the Heat, including two earlier appearances in garbage-time minutes that, in retrospect, Spoelstra surely regrets. The Heat have only 41 Caleb Martin games remaining, and with 70 games left on the docket, that means Martin must be inactive for at least 29 of those games.

Getting Strus back, as the Heat did on Thursday, should take pressure off the team’s decisions on when to use Martin, especially if Butler’s injury does not keep him out long. Poor health has forced the team to use Martin a lot early on, but improved health could ease the need to use him more later in the year.

As the Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman wrote, Miami will have to parcel out Martin’s games: “Even when Max Strus returns from his knee sprain, it won’t necessarily mitigate the need for Caleb as late-game defender. Now, if Victor Oladipo is able to return, then the Heat could effectively parcel out those remaining available Caleb games. I suspect the approach will be to play Caleb now, worry later. The reality is that it is a role the team had hoped KZ Okpala could fill.”

Martin Playing Without Twin Brother for First Time

It is a difficult situation for Martin, of course, bouncing back and forth between South Florida and South Dakota. He has also been adjusting to playing without his twin brother, Cody, for the first time in his career—the two went to college together at Nevada and, before that, North Carolina State, then were together with the Hornets.

Martin said he follows his brother closely, but is glad to be trying something new.

“We’re running up the minutes on FaceTime. But it has actually been cool,” Martin said, according to the Miami Herald. “We can feel ourselves just growing into our own people and stuff like that. Just learning how to do things without each other. I don’t know how many lunches and stuff I’ve eaten by myself now for the first time. So just getting used to stuff like that. But it has been a fine transition.”


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