Kevin Martin's most memorable individual performance came on April 1, 2009.
It was a road game against Golden State, the night when Martin, as a member of the Sacramento Kings, joined the 50-point club.
“I only took 22 shots,” Martin says, sounding as if he's still astonished. “That's rare.”
Since the 1985-86 season, there have been 170 occurrences in which players have scored at least 50 points, according to Basketball-reference.com. Martin is one of only two players over that span to do so on 22 or fewer shots. Willie Burton once dropped 53 with the Sixers on just 19 shots.
Whenever you hear Martin described as an efficient scorer, that's what writers and broadcasters, coaches and scouts, are speaking of. It's a skill that's every bit as much of a weapon as Martin's sharp-shooting and something that has defined his career over much of the past eight seasons.
“There's a lot of high scoring guys in this league that score 28 points but they'll shoot 25 times to do it,” Martin said. “I never wanted to be that guy. I always wanted to be a (shooting) guard that a point guard loves to play with, that helps them get assists and not just jacking up shots.”
Martin defines efficiency as “making the most of your opportunities when you have the ball.” It largely consists of earning foul shots and making 3-pointers, Martin said.
“If you hit a 3 it takes you one shot to get three points,” he said. “And then at the free throw line, it takes you no shots to get a couple of points. That's just a big part of being efficient.”
Also of utmost importance is shot selection, something Martin considers one of his biggest strengths. He prides himself on being a player who can play within a system yet score in bunches without forcing the issue.
“I never try to take 25-footers or contested 2s,” Martin said, “unless I'm already shooting a high percentage and shooting pretty good in a game.”
Martin is a career 44.3 percent shooter. He's shooting 46.2 percent from the field this season, the third highest clip of his career. Though both outputs are highly respectable for a guard, neither does Martin justice. That's because neither accounts for Martin's superb foul shooting and pinpoint 3-point accuracy. More modern metrics, like effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, provide more accurate looks at Martin's resourcefulness.
Using those statistics (see chart), it becomes evident that the Thunder is now benefiting from Martin assembling his most efficient season as a scorer. Martin is averaging 16.1 points on just 10.3 shots. Only in his first two seasons did Martin attempt fewer shots. Martin also is shooting 47.7 percent from 3-point range and 92.8 percent from the foul line, both career highs.
“If you (study) 15 shots of his, you might get one or two that's a tough, contested shot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's going to make open shots. He's going to be able to get to the free throw line. And his set-ups are really good. I think that's what really makes him very efficient.”
Martin is more of an old-school type who doesn't crunch new-school numbers. He appreciates advanced statistics but he only recently learned of them, even as he stood as one of the poster players for his sport's growing use of advanced statistical analytics.
“I never really knew too much about it,” Martin said. “Even the last couple of years I didn't know too much about the advanced stats and different things. People said I'm a great person to look into the advanced stats and all that. But it wasn't until I got to Houston when I got to Darryl Morey that I (learned) because he's a big advanced stats guy.”
Morey is Houston's general manager. When he acquired Martin from the Kings in 2010, Morey had plans on pairing Martin's efficiency with Yao Ming's inside effectiveness.
“He said he brought me there because he liked the way I scored the ball on the least amount of attempts,” Martin said. “He said the biggest contributor to that was getting to the line and shooting 3s.”
Martin credits his coaches from high school on for “teaching me how to play the right way.” But when it comes to his scoring efficiency, Martin doesn't boast. He doesn't consider himself any more special than his counterparts or the owner of some secret other players don't possess.
He just sees himself as a team player.
“Even in college I scored a lot but I just never was a ball dominant guy,” Martin said. “It just comes with being an unselfish guy.”