Credit: Rodolfo Molina/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Rodolfo Molina/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

The lockdown defenders are a special type of players. They play a huge role for their teams to reach season-long goals but they are hardly pronounced as the key factors of the game. They are the unsung heroes.

2-pointers this season

54%
21,2
Points made: 21,2
Accuracy: 54,3%
Place in standings: 1
Record max: 27
Record min: 14
Most made 2FGs: Brandon Davies

One good example could be Nikita Kurbanov of CSKA Moscow. His designated role for the EuroLeague final in 2019 was to keep away two crucial parts of Efes's offense.

First Vasilje Micic, and then Krunoslav Simon. He kept both of them out of rhythm to isolate Shane Larkin as the sole option in the Efes offenses. That was the key to the victory for CSKA.

Rudy Fernandez and Victor Claver did such things for years as they closed down Serbia and Argentina in 2019 to bring a World Cup gold to Spain. Jeffery Taylor made a career for himself in Real Madrid with the special ability to become a lockdown defender for multiple positions.

Perhaps the prime example is Dimitris Diamantidis. But it is also dubious whether Diamantidis, who made a name for himself with his lockdown defense in particular, could have supported the level of fame he earned in this level, if not improved his offensive skillset. 

The lockdown defenders are hard to find these days. The games are usually faster, more in numbers, with lesser intensity. But still, they exist. Barcelona’s very own Sergi Martinez is one of them. 

“When I came in everybody was saying that he is a very physical player. He guards probably five positions, so it is not a surprise that he is a good defensive player” after the win against Anadolu Efes Istanbul said his coach, Sarunas Jasikevicius

Seems like his coach has a valid point. Here is how the opponents shoot when Sergi Martinez is defending them.

Credit Instat

Until now, Martinez limited his opponent to score 40/113 from the field (35%) with 12/35 (34%) in three-point coverage in 26 games among all competitions.

In 10 of those shots, he stopped the opponent with a foul, and only in 3 of them, he allowed and-one type of play. Martinez’s never-ending willingness to stay up high against the opponent was almost a given as 102 of all these 113 opponent shots were contested.

“I think he understands his role and embraces it. Slowly, slowly he is starting to hit some shots," Jasikevicius explained Martinez's role. "He started to give us some post-ups. This is his future. A little bit closeout, a little bit shot.”

After putting in a convincing effort last season, he earned a contract extension that is valid until 2024. 

Martinez’s list of one-on-one assignments is long. Against Efes, he played on Larkin, Micic as well as Rodrigue Beaubois. Against Milan, he was playing on Sergio Rodriguez.

The list also included many other names, especially key players such as Wade Baldwin and Scottie Wilbekin.

During the game against CSKA Moscow, he kept Will Clyburn in control as one of the most impactful players in the Euroleague finished with 9 points, including 1/6 from deep that day.

There is only one other team against which Clyburn scored less: Maccabi back in November (7 points). Martinez also took some Shved assignments and contained him as well. 

Martinez’s resistance against the strong drives, closeout capabilities, and protecting abilities of the pick&rolls with chasing the ball handler over the screen shows his defensive eloquence.

In addition to that, Martinez also slowed down, a red-hot Elie Okobo, who just sent 26 points against Real Madrid. In the next game, he scored 17 points against Barcelona as well.

But only 5 of them were over Martinez. Martinez showed superb composure against one of the most efficient pick and roll ball handlers in the Euroleague, both in the half-court plays as well as transitions. 

“It’s an amazing feeling, seeing how I have grown and how I have worked to be where I am, Martinez admitted while talking to EuroLeague website. "One part is the confidence of Saras to put me in the games and make me play, but another part is the individual work I have done, every day coming into practice, making sacrifices.”

Martinez’s special abilities in the defense also give some defensive variety to Jasikevicius’ side. 

One crucial feature is his risk and crisis management; he can play with the same intensity in defense, despite the early fouls, without being fouled out. He got 3 fouls in the first half against Efes. He got 2 fouls in the first half against Real Madrid. Yet, he managed to stay in the game. 

Barcelona is the best team in the EuroLeague when it comes to defensive efficiency with 0.91 points allowed per possession. One crucial aspect of this defense is the tendency to non-switching.

Over 674 pick and rolls played against them in the Euroleague, they switched 200 of them. Only a 30% margin but not when Martinez is on the floor. With Martinez, that rate becomes 26/45. 

When Martinez defending a pick and roll, his opponents play with 6/18 from 2 FG and 5/11 from the 3 FG. Three of those 3-pointers came in the Efes game (Micic, Larkin, and Pleiss).

He defended Larkin four times on pick and roll, Vasilje Micic five times, and tried Ellie Okobo three times. Perhaps one of the best displays was against Sergio Llull in El Clasico where the obvious frustration of the veteran Spanish guard led him to some furious and perhaps inappropriate reactions towards the fans after the game.

“The first year was a little hard because moving to the first team was a pretty big step," says Sergi Martinez in an interview he gave to Marca. "Saras asks me to be a solid player, to contribute in defense and attack, and to continue working. Saras is teaching you every day, whether for better or worse."

Currently, Martinez is in the second most efficient five of Jasikevicius that does not involve Cory Higgins or Nick Calathes, with a +16 plus/minus index.

This lineup is composed of Nicolas Laprovittola, Martinez, Kyle Kuric, Nikola Mirotic, and Sertac Sanli, who played for 24:49 minutes in total, letting 36 points against their opponents with 81.8 points per 100 possessions. That indicates his overall value. 

Martinez's contributions on the offensive side of the court are still limited but yet, he also provides some clutch scoring.

Against Efes, he was 0/3 behind the arc but that did not refrain him from taking an important and yet, successful three-pointer. He has 2 pts per game in all competitions but earned a respectable 36% accuracy from deep. His improvement as a three and D player is a work in progress. 

“At this point, if he wants to get on the court I think he understands that he has to play defense and in the last minutes Sergi played how we are talking with the players. Last five games, Sergi had four good games,” Jasikevicius continued after the win in Istanbul.

"A young player with an amazing percentage, when he came in, he is very productive. He had a lot of injuries but now he’s getting a lot of playtime.”

Of course, Alex Abrines' injury became a reason for Sergi Martinez to extend his minutes. But the same thing happened last season with Mirotic. What matters the most is how the young players capitalize on those opportunities and compensate for the absence of an important teammate.

"Abrines' injury is very bad news, but we have to get ahead and we will do what we do," says Martinez.

“I want to have the feeling of helping the team win big games as many times as possible over the next few years. This club is more than one game. People remember games, but they remember your whole career more, everything that you do for a club.

You don’t remember Juan Carlos Navarro just because he scored a lot of points in one game 10 years ago. You remember him because of his whole career, everything he did for the club," added Martinez.

Sergi Martinez has been a Barca player since 11 and now is looking for the next step while living his childhood dream. With the current consistency and passion for the game, he might become one of the best lockdown defenders of EuroLeague. More eyes will be on him, that's for sure.

 

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2022-01-10
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Sergi Martinez

Sergi  Martinez
Sergi  Martinez
MIN: 11.49
PTS: 2.08 (50%)
REB: 1.69
As: 1.08
ST: 0.38
BL: 0.15
TO: 0.31
GM: 13