Kevin Martin vs. Reggie Theus

Posted on February 29, 2008 by


Mike Moreau of HoopsWorld penned the following column on Thursday (hat tip to Henry Abbott and TrueHoop).

The Kevin Martin Mystery

In this column – which you should go read — Moreau made the following observations:

– Of starting shooting guards in the NBA, Martin is the most efficient scorer.

– Yet Martin plays fewer minutes and takes fewer shots than assortment of less efficient, although perhaps better known, guards.

– The disconnect between his performance and opportunities leads Moreau to conclude that Martin’s head coach – Reggie Theus – doesn’t quite understand what Martin is bringing to the game.  In Moreau’s words:

Kevin Martin doesn’t cuss out his rookie coach. And if that’s what Kevin Martin has to do to get more minutes, shots and respect, then Martin is in trouble. That’s not who he is, and that’s not who the Kings paid $55 million to be the face of their franchise.

After Martin signed his contract, Theus joked about shooting him for his lunch money – implying he can shoot it better than Martin. Maybe they should play one-on-one and Kevin can dunk on him 10 straight times to get some respect.

Kevin Martin deserves better. One of the top shooting guards in the league, one of the young, true professional stars in the NBA, is being treated like an unproven rookie by his unproven rookie coach.

Martin vs. Theus

When I read this column I got the impression that Reggie Theus might think that he was a better guard than Martin.  And thanks to Basketball-Reference, this is quite easy to check.

Table One: Comparing Kevin Martin to Reggie Theus

Table One reports what Martin has done this year, last year, and for his career.  These numbers are compared to what Theus did for his career and also what he did for the 1985-86 campaign. In 1985 the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento.  In the Kings first season in California, Theus posted an 8.2 Win Score per 48 minutes, the best mark in his career.

The numbers in Table One tell a pretty clear story.  Whether we compare Martin’s numbers to the career marks of Theus, or to what Theus did his best season, Martin still looks like the better player.

Where is Martin better?  The above quote suggests Theus thinks he was a better shooter.  The numbers make it clear that this is not the case. Theus only posted an adjusted field goal percentage above 50% once in his career (1980-81).  Except for his rookie campaign, Martin has been well above the 50% mark each season.  In addition to being a better shooter, Martin also bests Theus with respect to both rebounds and turnovers.  In sum, Martin is better than Theus in terms of both scoring and possessions.  So if Theus thinks he was a better player than Martin, he needs to explain why the numbers tell such a different story.

Now in defense of Theus, Martin may not be getting the shots and minutes other top shooting guards enjoy.  But relative to last year – when Theus was not the coach – Martin is getting more shots and minutes this year.  And of course we know what that means.  Eric Musselman –Sacramento’s coach last year – clearly thought he was immensely better than Martin. 

Theus the Coach

Okay, Theus may not be using Martin as much as people might like.  But he is using Martin more than Musselman.  Does this make him a better coach than Musselman (or anyone else)?

In 2006-07 the Kings scored 103.2 points per 100 possessions while allowing 105.1.  This season the Kings are scoring 103.0 points per 100 possessions while allowing 105.3. In sum, the Kings under Theus are about the same as they were under Musselman. 

Table Two: The Sacramento Kings after 57 Games

When we look at the individual players we do see some changes.  Brad Miller and Beno Udrih are playing much better this season (Udrih played in San Antonio last year). But a number of other players are offering just a bit less.  So when we compare what we would project for the Kings based on last year’s player performance and what we project based on this year’s numbers, we see only a three win difference.

These results suggest that Theus isn’t really the issue.  What this team needs is more productive players.  Once you get past Brad Miller and Kevin Martin, this team really doesn’t have any above average players who get much playing time.

Of course there is hope. The Kings are destined for a trip to the NBA lottery, where productive players can be found cheap.  For example, last year the lottery trip gave the team Spencer Hawes. 

Okay, not much help there.  Hawes, as expected, is not offering much to the Kings.  So maybe there isn’t much hope after all.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.