The spread of the coronavirus hit pause on the NBA season earlier this month, but not until after Caleb and Cody Martin started to find their niches in the league.
The twins, who led Nevada to two record-setting seasons before turning pro, were playing the best basketball of their rookie campaigns when the season was postponed.
"They affect the entire group with how hard they play, the passion they play with, the resiliency and the defense," Hornets coach James Borrego told Charlotte-based station WFNZ.Radio.com earlier this month. "They’re core culture guys for us. I think they’re keepers and they’re going to just keep getting better."
Both have had up-and-down rookie seasons. Cody Martin was a second-round draft pick by his home-state team and has spent much of the season in the NBA with the exception of a five-game stint in the G League. Caleb Martin signed as an undrafted free agent but made Charlotte's 15-man roster out of training camp, signing a three-year deal with the club. Most of his season has been spent with the Greensboro Swarm before a recent promotion.
“Greensboro has helped me just find ways to move through the offense and finding baskets here and there,” Caleb told WFNZ. “I’m just figuring out how to do the best of both worlds right now to throw some offense in there and get it when I can.”
Defense is where the Martin twins have made their largest mark this season, helping a young Charlotte team play elite defense prior to the stoppage. A series of moves by the Hornets opened up playing time for the twins. The team bought out veterans Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, put Nicolas Batum on the bench and saw Malik Monk suspended for violating the league's drug policy.
Caleb Martin averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 28 G League games and has been productive since being recalled. In Charlotte's last nine games, Martin has averaged 9.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field. On the season, Martin has made 54.1 percent of his threes. While he was known as a scorer at Nevada, Martin's devotion to defense has been his primary focus as a pro.
"Defense is the biggest thing for me to stay on the court right now," Martin told WFNZ. "I'm not too worried about scoring right now. Scoring won't be a problem for me, but it's doing all the little things like learning the rotation, the reads, learning how to play with other guys and being a positive impact down the stretch, whether it's diving on a loose ball or grabbing the rebound."
Cody Martin has stuck with the big-league club for all but a short stretch this season. He also was getting expanded playing time prior to the league's suspension. In the team's last nine games, Martin was averaging 7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game while making 45.6 percent of his shots. He's among the league leaders in charges taken.
"I think the biggest thing for me is just to go out there and play hard," Martin told WFNZ. "Just bring effort and energy and you know, I say it all the time, but I really believe that when you play hard good things happen, so I think the biggest thing for us is that we stay consistent."
Second-year player Devonte Graham has credited the Martin brothers for making the important little plays that lead to winning. Charlotte was 4-4 in its most recent eight-game stretch after starting the season 19-38.
Playing time can come and go from one game to the next for role players in the league, but the 24-year-old twins are at least showing they can play in the league. It's reminiscent of the rookie season of another Wolf Pack alum, Ramon Sessions, a second-round pick who spent much of his rookie campaign in the G League before getting a late call-up by the Milwaukee Bucks. Sessions closed that season strong, including a 20-point, 24-assist game, before never returning to the G League en route to a 10-year NBA career.
Whether that kind of future lies ahead for the Martins is unknown, but they were proving their worth before the season was paused. They've earned rave reviews from coaches and teammates. After playing together on the same high school, AAU and college teams, they're now doing so in the NBA.
"I know everything he is going to do, vice versa," Cody Martin told WFNZ. "It's a lot of fun and we are blessed to be able to do this and to be able to have played basically our whole life together. It means a lot. I think it shows when we are out there on the court that we know what each other’s doing.
"I think we complement whoever we play with really well because we go out there and just try to bring a lot of energy into our job and just basically doing whatever is needed from us to win and being willing to do that every night."