NBA AM: The Unbreakable Martell Webster
Although Minnesota Timberwolves forward Martell Webster is only 25 years old, his NBA career journey has run the gamut from being a full-time starter to a potential career ending injury victim.
Webster has now emerged as a valuable part of the ascending Timberwolves’ evolving nucleus.
After missing all but one game of the 2009 season due to a foot injury while a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, Webster was limited to just 46 games in his first season with Minnesota in 2011 due to a nagging back ailment which ultimately required surgery.
Back injuries have been the root cause for the ending of many NBA careers throughout the years and Webster’s setback left him seriously questioning if he would ever return to the court at full strength.
“Of course,” Webster told HOOPSWORLD when asked if he ever doubted he’d be able to return to the court. “We’re not robots, we’re human. When you continue to do something (rehab) and it’s repetitive and you’re not seeing the progress you want to see, you begin to think ‘oh my God is this it, am I not going to be able to do this anymore?’ The stronger you are mentally, the easier it is to bounce back [from injuries].”
It is the channeling of this mental strength which allowed Webster to persevere through the injuries and get back on the court when most would have given up.
“To the average person it would be very discouraging,” Webster said. “It would be hard to stay motivated and find that thrive inside you to want to get back and get healthy and get better. Everybody knows rehab is ten times harder than practice because you have to push your body to the limit to strengthen whatever it is that you’ve injured. Sometimes that could be a little discouraging, but I have good friends and family and people on the outside who are helping me stay focused.”
The 13-16 Timberwolves have been one of the biggest surprises of this young season, flirting with .500 all year before their current four game losing streak.
The mainstream attention bestowed on the franchise is now starting to increase with the rising fortunes.
Yet there are no plans for Webster, a veteran on a young club, to lobby for a bigger offensive role or take away shine from his younger teammates. In fact, he’s perfectly content leading by example and just doing the little things for the team.
“Leadership and defensive energy,” Webster says when asked what he brings to Minnesota and his role. “If my number is called and my name is called in any plays where they are looking for me to be aggressive [offensively] then I’m going to take advantage of it. But I’m not going to go out there and be running around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to look for shots. I’m not trying to go out there and hunt for shots. I’m not trying to be mister instant offense. I’m just letting the game come to me and providing a defensive presence.”
One player Webster credits as a driving force behind the T’Wolves’ rise from league laughingstock to team on the ascent is point guard Ricky Rubio who the veteran describes as potentially unstoppable.
“In practice he’s pretty much unstoppable,” Webster told HOOPSWORLD with amazement. “I’m telling you that right now. The guy has a knack for the ball. He knows what to do when he comes off screens. That comes from him scanning the floor before he even starts a play. He sees guys starting to cave in and help defense and he’s just firing. You can’t ask for anything better.”
The arrival of Rubio to Minnesota has changed the dynamic of the team. The culture has gone from having to create and score yourself, to guys having to make the adjustment and evolving into finishers, which in turn has made the T’Wolves’ offense much more potent than in years past.
“The main thing with him is he scans the whole floor before he even starts a pick and roll play or before he starts penetration,” Webster said. “He may be going one way and you’re behind him and he’ll loop back around and kick it and fire. His vision is that great. You have to be ready because you can receive a pass at any moment.”
Rubio and All-Star forward Kevin Love may be the future of Minnesota, but ultimately the true successful teams don’t reach those heights without guys like Webster willingly accepting lesser roles for the betterment the team.
Marcin Gortat Predicts Future All-Star Selections: Despite a 12-15 record and currently sitting twelfth in the Western Conference standings, the Phoenix Suns remain only 2.5 games behind the Utah Jazz for the last and final playoff spot.
One of the primary reasons the team has remained relevant in the standings while former two-time league MVP Steve Nash ages is the play of fifth year center Marcin Gortat on the interior.
Once only known as Dwight Howard’s backup in Orlando, Gortat has firmly established himself as a legit NBA starting center since the Magic dealt him in December 2010.
But the starting lineup isn’t the final destination Gortat envisions.
The center eventually wants to be recognized as one of the elite big men in the game and hear his name mentioned in the same breath as All-Stars.
“I need a minimum of two years to be considered a true center who is dominating the game and putting up good numbers,” Gortat told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. “I believe I can reach up to the level of [All-Star center selections] Andrew Bynum and Marc Gasol, definitely. It is just a question of working hard.”
Gortat is having a career year averaging a team-high 15.1 points and 10 rebounds on the season, while also ranking in the league’s top ten in field goal percentage and rebounds per game.
From a pure numbers standpoint, Gortat matches up extremely well with Bynum and Gasol – the only notable difference being overall team performance – wins.
Even though Gortat was overlooked by the fans and coaches for this year’s All-Star festivities, the center isn’t bitter and says he will use the snub as extra motivation in the offseason.
“I will take this as motivation for the next couple years,” Gortat said. “I’ve got to work hard. I’m 100 percent sure that if I play the way I’ve been playing and even better that I’m going to get selected to that. I’ve got to do it longer and work harder to get there. It isn’t going to happen after 25 to 30 games.”
Receiving an All-Star nod in the West won’t be an easy task to accomplish over the next few years with Bynum, Gasol, Pau Gasol, Nene, Chris Kaman (if he re-signs in the conference), DeAndre Jordan and Al Jefferson roaming the middle.
But one thing is clear; Gortat has clearly established he belongs in the mix of today’s top big men.
Playing Time Blues
Evan Turner Adjusting To Reduced Playing Time: Most No. 2 overall picks don’t find themselves struggling to find playing time early in their respective careers, but that’s exactly the predicament Evan Turner finds himself in on the playoff bound Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia, under head coach Doug Collins, is a team where one player doesn’t dominate the glare of the bright lights.
In fact, the team features six guys averaging double figures in points per game with another two on the cusp coming in at the nine point range.
With so much depth on the roster, Turner often finds himself with a shriking role and languishing on the pine.
“I don’t know. It’s just one of those situations, and we have to do what’s best for the team, and certain situations coach tries to do what’s best out there, and that’s it,” Turner told Bob Cooney of the Philly Daily News. “You just have to move on with each game. We have so many games coming up. It is how it is. You just have to be professional about it. You have to just be prepared. That’s pretty much what I took from Noc [referencing teammate Andres Nocioni]; you’ve just got to be prepared when your number is called. Last year, it happened to him a few times, but he was always ready. That’s what you have to do.”
What can’t be left out of the equation is the fact Turner is playing behind All-Star forward Andre Iguodala on the depth chart.
Playing time behind a star will fluctuate accordingly says Collins.
”I think what happens sometimes is we get caught with teams, and it’s hard for me to take Dre [Andre Iguodala] off the floor if he’s playing against one of the [opposition's] key guys,” Collins said. “A lot of times, he gets matched up with a guy, and I want him to stay on that guy until the other coach rests [that key player] as well. And sometimes what ends up happening is Evan might not get in until the last minute or two of the third quarter or the last minute or two of the first quarter. Sometimes, we get caught a little bit like that. Everybody wants to play; everybody wants to get their minutes. I wouldn’t want anybody on my team that was happy sitting over there on the bench. I want them to all be out there. But there are certain nights where the minutes don’t get there.”
Turner has improved his efficiency a great deal this season after a rookie campaign that didn’t overwhelm most observers with excitement. The former Ohio State University standout is also seeing increased floor time in 2012 compared to last season.
However as long as Iguodala is on the Sixers’ roster, Turner’s minutes will continue a bouncy trajectory as Collins leans on his star player down the stretch.
Shannon Brown Frustrated With Bench Role: Another player having a tough time adapting to reduced minutes is Phoenix Suns shooting guard Shannon Brown.
Brown signed with the Suns in the offseason after establishing himself as a solid bench asset for the Los Angeles Lakers the past couple of seasons.
However the sixth year veteran now finds himself on the outside looking in at head coach Alvin Gentry’s nightly rotation.
Not surprisingly and quite naturally the frustration has started to kick in.
“It’s very frustrating sitting on the bench,” Brown told Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. “I’ve put my time in. I’ve earned my stripes. I’ve been through the fire. I know I can play this game. That’s the only thing keeping me positive. It’s not like I can’t do something. I can knock down big shots. I’ve done that. I won’t hate on nobody. I want to see the team successful. It’s just tough for me to sit on the bench, day in and day out, knowing I can help the team.”
Although Gentry has decided to roll with veteran Michael Redd instead of Brown as of late, Brown insists he’ll be ready to produce once his number is called and promises he won’t become a cancer in the locker room.
“I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity that might come and have fun,” Brown said. “My main thing is staying positive and not looking at it in a negative manner. Positive thoughts beget negative results. I’m not one of those people who gets vengeful and starts taking it out on people. I would’ve done that earlier in my career, but now I’m more mature. I understand this business.”
Brown is averaging a career-high 9 points per game this season and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The original thought was that he’d get more consistent playing time in Phoenix which would then increase his market value in free agency. It hasn’t happened yet, but keep in mind Redd hasn’t been 100 percent over the long term for years. It may just be a matter of having just a little more patience for Brown.
NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats scheduled for today starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Anthony Macri at 11am. Coach Macri works with NBA players year around with developing and improving their games and will do his best to answer your questions. Senior NBA writer Eric Pincus will hold down his weekly NBA chat at 4pm EST. Eric covers the Western Conference from LA with the Lakers and the Clippers. Closing the show is Stephen Litel who covers the emerging Minnesota Timberwolves and Western Conference. Stephen gets started at 8pm EST.