They made an odd pair this summer: Nets rookie Kenyon Martin, the
explosive and intimidating power forward who was the first pick
in the draft out of Cincinnati, and 42-year-old Kiki Vandeweghe,
a retired small forward whose game was about as in-your-face as
National Public Radio. Yet there was Vandeweghe schooling Martin
for hours at a Los Angeles gym on the intricacies of offense,
from shooting to footwork. Not that Martin wasn't working on his
D in the off-season, too. It's just that in that department, he
needs very little help.
The 6'9", 230-pound Martin takes defense as seriously as Al Gore
takes every topic, enough so that he has adopted Bill Russell's
jersey number (6) and set as his primary goal being named to the
NBA All-Defensive first team this year. To achieve what no Net,
and no rookie, has ever done, Martin knows he will have to make
some hard decisions--like, say, just how hard to swat a weak
finger roll. "Yeah, that can be tough," Martin says with a sigh.
"If it's early in the game, I might toss it out of bounds to get
the crowd up. But if it's late in the game and it's close, well,
then I'll just go up and grab it out of the air. That way we can
go down to the other end."
All this--the talk of defensive honors, the summer workouts, the
promise of opponents' shots getting sent anywhere but in the
basket--is sweet music for New Jersey, a team that finished 31-51
last season and saw its best rebounder and interior defender,
Jayson Williams, retire because of a leg injury. Now
orchestrating the team is Rod Thorn, a former player, coach, G.M.
and league executive who is as connected as anyone in the league.
Thorn took over as president in June and wasted no time in
replacing likable but laid-back coach Don Casey, who had been
fired in April. His first thought was of Byron Scott, a Kings
assistant who had won three titles as a shooting guard with the
Lakers. Familiar with Scott's professionalism, Thorn had
questions only about his coaching acumen. He took a magnetic
clipboard to their mid-June meeting at Chicago's O'Hare Airport,
where they X'd and O'd for hours. When they were done, Thorn knew
he had his man.
If Scott is going to succeed, his first challenge will be to
overcome injuries that will sideline forward Keith Van Horn (four
to six weeks), forward-center Jamie Feick (two months) and
shooting guards Lucious Harris (three to five weeks) and Kerry
Kittles (perhaps the whole season). In Kittles's absence, Scott
will start Kendall Gill and use point guard Stephon Marbury as a
backup. Feick's minutes up front will be divided among Jim
McIlvaine, Evan Eschmeyer and free-agent pickup Aaron Williams.
Fully aware that the information in that last sentence won't be
striking fear in any opponents, Scott plans to occasionally go
with Martin or Van Horn in the pivot.
No matter where Martin and Van Horn play, and Scott plans to use
them together and interchangeably, their effectiveness is crucial
to the Nets' success. "Kenyon can guard threes and fours, and
Keith's got a rep of not being a great defender, so Kenyon can
take some of the pressure off him," says Scott. On offense, the
Nets are hoping that Van Horn will draw bigger defenders away
from the basket so that Martin will be able to post up and use
some of those Vandeweghe moves. "Kenyon's better than I thought
he was," says Gill. "He's got a better shot, he's more active and
he hasn't walked in with that Number-1-pick aura."
The soft-spoken Martin may be grounded, but it's his towering
defensive presence that the Nets are counting on to lead them
back to the playoffs.
Last season's most turnover-prone teammates were Stephon Marbury
(3.6 per game) and Keith Van Horn (3.1). Their fellow Nets,
though, were so sure-handed that as a team New Jersey averaged a
league-low 13.6 turnovers.
STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
SF Keith Van Horn 19.2 ppg 8.5 rpg 2.0 apg 44.5 FG% 36.8 3FG%
PF Kenyon Martin (R)18.9 ppg 9.7 rpg 1.4 apg 3.39 bpg 56.8 FG%
C Jim McIlvaine 2.4 ppg 3.5 rpg 1.80 bpg 41.6 FG% 51.8 FT%
SG Kendall Gill 13.1 ppg 2.8 apg 1.83 spg 41.4 FG% 25.6 3FG%
PG Stephon Marbury 22.2 ppg 8.4 apg 3.2 rpg 1.51 spg 43.2 FG%
BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
F Johnny Newman 10.0 ppg 1.9 rpg 0.65 spg 44.6 FG% 37.9 3FG%
G Sherman Douglas 6.0 ppg 1.7 apg 1.5 rpg 0.85 spg 50.0 FG%
G Lucious Harris 6.7 ppg 1.3 apg 2.4 rpg 42.8 FG% 33.0 3FG%
F-C Jamie Feick 5.7 ppg 9.3 rpg 0.53 spg 42.8 FG% 70.7 FT%
F-C Aaron Williams 7.6 ppg 5.0 rpg 1.14 bpg 52.2 FG% 72.6 FT%
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Nets
"It will be interesting to see how Keith Van Horn and Kenyon
Martin play together. They're definitely going to pose matchup
problems. On the other hand, Van Horn can't guard anyone.... The
Nets are horrible at center. To expect Evan Eschmeyer to be a
factor is really a reach. If Jim McIlvaine could ever stay out of
foul trouble he would be effective, but 15 minutes is a long time
for him to last. We'll have to see just how tough Martin is, but
asking him to play center is asking a lot.... They'll miss Kerry
Kittles. Kendall Gill hasn't shot well the last few years, which
makes me wonder if it's because he's been playing out of position
at the three, or because he doesn't have the skill to play the
two anymore.... Stephon Marbury is the best point guard in the
East. They have three terrific young talents in Marbury, Martin
and Van Horn that they can build around, and they'll be more
disciplined under Byron Scott. A lot of the bad teams in the
conference haven't improved, but the Nets will be better than
they were last year."