In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we take a closer look at Kenyon Martin Jr.
Most fans will recognize this name, even if you’ve never seen the 19-year-old high schooler play basketball. Kenyon Martin, Jr., or K.J. Martin, is indeed the son of former No. 1 overall pick and 15-year NBA veteran Kenyon Martin. He is attempting an unusual, but no longer unprecedented in the post-2005 world, move from high school straight to the NBA, similar to Thon Maker, Anfernee Simons, and Darius Bazley before him.
Martin spent time at Chaminade College Preparatory School before finishing his undergraduate high school career at Sierra Canyon High School, both located in the San Fernando Valley area of the Los Angeles metro. He initially accepted a scholarship to Vanderbilt University before reversing course, instead heading to the famed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla for a postgraduate year in 2019. In addition, during his true senior season, Martin played on the Oakland Soldiers of the AAU circuit.
While at Sierra Canyon High School, he played alongside another son of an NBA star, Scottie Pippen Jr. The school is now acting as a host to two more after Martin’s departure, with Lebron James (Bronnie) Jr., and Zaire Wade, son of Dwyane, on campus.
Kenyon Martin Jr. is a 6’7”, 215-pound forward with great leaping ability and change of direction. During his most recent season at IMG, Martin shot 35% from three-point range on a low volume and 67% from the free throw line, according to information from Jonathan Givony of ESPN. In addition, he was active on the defensive end, recording over a block and a steal per game.
In one matchup, Martin finished with a monster 34 points, 16 rebounds, 5 steals and two blocks in 38 minutes in IMG Academy’s 100-95 win over Hargrave Academy (VA), according to information from Tarek Fattal. Martin played for IMG’s post-grad basketball team, a separate entity from their varsity squad.
With the AAU Oakland Soldiers (on an extremely small sample size of 146 total minutes), he logged an average of 30.6 points on 60.2 TS% and a gaudy 23.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, according to RealGM.
Frankly, it’s pretty tough to find reliable stats from either of two different prep schools, who are notoriously guarded about the game stats of their players. This, in conjunction with playing a national schedule against varying levels of play at the high school and postgraduate level, make for a tough determination of Martin’s true talent and ability.
Martin personifies quick-twitch athleticism with burst to the rim virtually unparalleled for someone his age. Mixtape content creators have plenty of material to work with as the younger Martin routinely throws down nasty windmills and tomahawk dunks.
He played a conventional forward position all throughout high school, and showed the ability to take smaller defenders to the post and flip in shots with either hand. Martin showed an aptitude for setting early post ups and clearing space with his lower body. Interestingly enough, he chooses to dribble and finish around the basket much more with his left than his right, although he shoots jump shots right-handed.
The youngster’s post defense is much more refined than his perimeter defense. He comfortably played the 5 for stretches at Sierra Canyon — and infrequently at IMG — against smaller lineups and serves as a formidable shot blocker and rangy paint protector. He even took turns tipping off at times, just in case a team needs a jump ball safety blanket.
This snippet shows his impressive weakside help defense, smothering a sure dunk from the backside cut.
In the below clip, Martin has good awareness to jump the ball handler off the screen and cut off the lane. He then times his jump to block Precious Achiuwa, a bigger forward and probable 2020 first round pick from Memphis.
Martin had a notable improvement in his ball handling from Sierra Canyon to IMG Academy, and he showcased his ability to move the ball well in half court sets and run a fast break with similar talent around him. He has fantastic straight line speed that rivals even the fastest guards in his age bracket.
He favors using his left to whip passes around in open space, showcasing his ambidexterity whenever possible.
Martin is generally pretty active on defense, contesting every shot possible despite shorter than ideal wingspan.
His pick-and-roll game is solid when used as the screener. He’ll give up his body to set a stiff pick and at times can be a terrifying roll man. In the case he or a teammate blows a layup, Martin has an impressive second bounce, getting off the floor quickly for offensive rebounds.
Martin has obvious athletic pedigree and has attended two of the most prestigious prep schools for basketball careers. He added noticeable layers to his game in his last two years, indicating a willingness to work on weak aspects of his game.
The elephant in the room is the level of competition in which he last played. While opponents like Montverde Academy in Florida and Huntington St. Joseph Preparatory School in West Virginia have become magnets for high ranking postgraduate high schoolers to play basketball before the collegiate and professional level, it remains a large leap in talent away from the NBA.
Furthermore, Martin didn’t exactly dominate at that level. He was often just a complementary piece when sharing the floor with other top prospects. The postgraduate route Martin took most elite NBA prospects wouldn’t consider, and in the process, he missed out on an opportunity at the Division I level or as a professional elsewhere.
Martin’s jump shot isn’t particularly refined, and he was hesitant to let even open shots fly, indicating a lack of confidence in his stroke. He has a low gather point and his elbows flare out at the top of his release which makes for inconsistency at long range. At a lean 6’7” frame, he’ll have to learn to be a modern combo forward and make the defense respect his jumper at the next level.
Although a willing passer, Martin just doesn’t create for his teammates at a high level. He can press on offense and put up blinders when he has the ball down low or at the elbow. This translates into throwing up less than ideal attempts at the basket.
In the clip below, Martin doesn’t recognize the sliding man coming to double him in the post which should have alerted him to pass out to the opposite wing.
Similarly, Martin can fall asleep on help defense and his motor on that end varies significantly play to play and game to game. The below clip should have seen him immediately switch on the screen. It did not play out that way.
Martin did occasionally step out and challenge perimeter shots and switch onto perimeter men on screens, but he generally isn’t too refined in that area. Certainly he possesses the lateral agility to defend outside the paint, but not always the length or awareness to do it effectively against professional athletes.
Possible fit with the Hawks
It may be long shot that Kenyon Martin Jr. would be drafted at all in 2020. To my somewhat untrained eye, he doesn’t pop off the tape as much as a high schooler who is looking to leap to The Association should. The Hawks, as of late, have preferred multi-year college players with their draft picks, with Trae Young and Cam Reddish being the only notable exceptions. However, there is very little opportunity cost should Atlanta choose to use their No. 52 overall pick (via Houston) on Martin with future projection in mind.
Martin’s pure bounce and defensive upside may earn him a spot on an offseason roster with a chance to prove himself. With that being said, his path to the NBA may be through a different professional league where he can play outside the paint more and sort out his jump shot mechanics to become a two-way perimeter player. Only at that point would Martin fit into a pace-and-space spread scheme Lloyd Pierce and Atlanta’s coaching staff have roadmapped for this young team.