Fundamentals are key to Kenyon's success

Updated: May 7, 2004, 1:12 PM ET
By Tom Tolbert | Special to ESPN.com

Rasheed Wallace and Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martin, right, will need to use his speed to score against 'Sheed.
There's nothing tougher for a frontcourt player than having to play against someone bigger, quicker and stronger than you.

It's a problem that New Jersey Nets power forward Kenyon Martin is facing against the Detroit Pistons' frontcourt duo of Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace.

Martin is coming off a big first-round series against the New York Knicks, but he's facing a much better frontcourt in this round. Rasheed, at 6-foot-11, is bigger than the 6-9 Martin and is probably stronger. Ben is much stronger even though he's around the same height as Martin (but not as quick).

If Martin had to face them one at a time, it would be much easier. But both Wallaces are starters and are All-Star caliber. They will make Martin's job much harder because, in addition to trying to help contain those two players, he also must play a lot of help defense.

When Piston players like Tayshaun Prince, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton drive toward the basket, Martin will have to use his quickness to get off the player he's guarding, get over and alter the shot. It's a difficult assignment for Martin and one that points out the Nets' frontcourt deficiency, which hurts them when they play teams with good frontcourts.

As a 6-8, 240-pound former power forward, it was a problem I had to face frequently. Against good frontcourts, I had to use all the "intangibles" I possessed and let my energy and hustle help me win the matchup.

Even if a player was much bigger, and in some cases much stronger than I was, I still had a shot at winning the battle because I could rely on fundamentals. Against those players, footwork and body positioning is the ultimate key. I would try to get position earlier on him to deny him the ball offensively and stop him from getting to his favorite offensive spots.

Also, while playing him I'd try to do whatever it took to pester him whether it was keeping my elbow in his back or intermittently swiping at the ball just to keep him off-balance. Anything I could do to keep those players from getting comfortable on the offensive block was my defense against their offensive prowess.

Offense was a different matter for me because I was never known for my great offensive abilities. But occasionally, my point guards would make a mistake and kick the ball inside to me against a defensive player who was probably just as surprised as I was that I got the ball. On those occasions, I'd just try to play within the offense and move towards the hoop because that was my best chance to score.

When I didn't have the ball, I'd try to move around as much as possible to make my guy get a little winded or at least make him think he was guarding an offensive threat. Also by running him around a bit, it would make him a little bit easier to guard on the offensive end because you don't want to keep coming down the floor and having to face a rested player.

I know what Martin is facing. And no matter what he does, it may not be enough against a frontcourt like Detroit's. Not until the Nets get another viable option up front to help him out.

Tom Tolbert, who played in the NBA for seven seasons, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.

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