The previous role was simple, simply having to energize.
It proved to be Caleb Martin’s takeoff point to a three-year, $20.4 million free-agent contract from the Miami Heat in the offseason.
And then far more than the money got real for the affable 27 year old.
Slotted in as a full-time starter for the first time in his four-season NBA career, Martin went into Friday’s game against the visiting Washington Wizards on one of the most productive streaks of his career, coming off a 24-point performance in Wednesday night’s victory over the Wizards.
“Caleb has grown and changed from what he was previously, before,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I still think he’s going to have a game where he’ll be flirting with some triple-doubles, just the way he’s getting into dribble handoffs, the way he can get shooters open shots. There’s going to be one of those nights where he’s just going to fall into all of those being makes, and you’ll look up and he’s going to have eight assists with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
“I told him the big thing is can he get 10 rebounds? I know he can get the points and assists. He’s got a knack for the ball, so he’s going to be able to get that, as well.”
Since the offseason departure of P.J. Tucker, the role of starting forward was there for the taking for Martin. But not only has he helped stabilize the Heat’s defense at that spot, but he also has shown the ability to shift back to small forward in the absence of Jimmy Butler, with Friday the fifth consecutive game Butler has missed with a sore right knee. He also was there to score when Tyler Herro was out before Wednesday’s return.
“Obviously there’s slack that does have to be picked up with those guys that carry a load scoring wise, offensive wise,” Martin said. “So obviously we’ve got to be able to pick up those shot attempts in the way that we can, without cutting into Tyler and Kyle [Lowry] and those guys.
“I just think overall I’m just starting to figure out that four role, in terms of how I’m able to get my shots. I’m getting more short rolls, I’m getting more slide opportunities, I’m getting more handoffs and pick-and-pops. So I’m just starting to learn that role a little bit better. I think it’s coming a little easier, so the attempts come with it.”
All while continuing as energizer, no matter whether starting at power forward or shifting to small forward alongside Nikola Jovic.
“He’s been playing unbelievable,” Lowry said. “The last two and a half, three weeks, he’s been finding guys, pitching, handoffs, rolling, making plays, making passes and then he’s been shooting the ball well.”
That included 4 of 9 on 3-pointers Wednesday night.
“He’s a great shooter,” Spoelstra said. “I see it when he’s working out behind the scenes. He can knock down threes.
“But he has a speed and quickness X-factor that really adds a different element to our offense. And now he’s really learning how to be one of those secondary screeners, dribble handoff guys, or at the end when we’re actually running the pick and roll with him.”
Eventually, with Herro having returned Wednesday and with hope for Butler to be back soon, it likely will be back to undersized power forward for Martin, in a lineup of himself, Butler, Herro, Lowry and Bam Adebayo.
“He’s so dynamic, especially at the four,” Herro said of Martin, who is listed at 6 foot 5, 205 pounds. “So being able to put him there and be a trigger guy for us, he’s just making a lot of plays for us.”
When he does get back to power forward, Martin said it will be in a comfort zone.
“I think last year I was more on the wing and I created more off the catch-and-goes, getting out and attacking in transition,” he said. “I think now I’m just more creating for other guys and getting it off the secondary action. I’m starting to find those attempts, but just in different ways this year.”
Including shooting when needed.
“Coach is telling me to shoot the ball,” Martin said. “I’m still working my way to that. Because my initial objective is to get those guys going and get other guys open shots. So I’m still leaning into that aggressiveness.”