Entering the Wizards' seventh game of the season Wednesday night in Dallas, Cartier Martin received fewer minutes than any player on the roster had. Actually the once undrafted and now the at times forgotten swingman with a knack for the deep ball stood at the bottom of many a category list including points, rebounds and field goals attempted.
Through three and a half quarters against the Mavericks, it was more of the same. One night after a 16-point drubbing in Charlotte, Washington trailed by that amount in Dallas with 10:17 left in the fourth quarter. While each of his 12 active teammates had their run and took their shots, Martin watched.
With the Wizards careening toward another loss and a 0-7 start for the second straight season, apparently the Wizards' coach had watched enough. Looking for an offensive spark, Randy Wittman looked down his bench and summoned in the 6-foot-7 Martin.
Actually, a yet to be realized 15-0 run had just begun with Kevin Seraphin's jumper moments before Martin's entrance. Jordan Crawford celebrated Martin's arrival with a 3-pointer and Seraphin kept the party going with consecutive baskets, bringing Washington teasingly closer at 88-79.
To that point, the soon-to-be 28-year old Martin -- his birthday is Tuesday --missed his first attempt, a 22-footer. Based on the final seven plus minutes unfolded, perhaps it was simply to close a shot.
With 7:46 left in the quarter, Seraphin one-timed a pass out to the left wing where a wide-open Martin stood beyond the arc. Splash, the deficit was six.
An empty Dallas possession followed, the missed shot grabbed by Martin. He handed the ball off to Crawford, the Wizards de facto point guard, who proceeded to work the ball up the court while seeking the proper move. Martin made it abundantly clear where he felt the pass should go.
Trailing on the play, Martin waved for his down court teammates to push toward the rim. Even before crossing midcourt, he raised his still waving arm, the universal sign for "I'm open, I'm open." Crawford sent the pass right. With Dallas' Vince Carter caught up in the traffic, the ball arrived in Martin's hands three feet behind the 3-point line. What came next involved no hesitation, simply a catch on the move followed by a confident rise and fire.
Splash once again. Once down 22, the Wizards trailed by only three.
"Cartier sat there the first three to three-and-a-half quarters and comes in and played big for us," Wittman said.
We know what ultimately happened, no storybook ending, but rather a 107-101 Dallas win. Martin's fairytale quarter included three more field goals - two from beyond the arc - without a miss. In 16 previous minutes this season, Martin had 10 points. In 10 minutes against Dallas, he scored 14. That's efficient, that's professional.
“When I’m called on, I just need to step up and make plays for my team," Martin told the media. "I was mentally prepared for this game and ready to go. I have confidence in all our guys and whenever me or my teammates shoot the ball I feel like it’s going in. Unfortunately the game didn’t go our way.”
The question now becomes whether Saturday against Utah whether Wittman will turn to his sharpshooter as part of a plan, out of desperation or at all. Will Martin join the rotation or follow the path of Earl Barron, another back of the bencher whose shining moment came in the season opener, but has received little time since.
Maybe putting Martin's perimeter talents on the court with Bradley Beal opens the court for the suddenly misfiring rookie. Maybe the group that rallied late should receive another spin together against the Jazz. Maybe it's simply time to try a different starting lineup, a new first off the bench rotation.
Of course, maybe Martin's not the answer at all, his performance simply a Dallas night mirage. There is a reason why his minutes are inconsistent despite a knockdown jumper, why he's basketball resume is something out of a travelogue. For every heroic stretch, a lapse in on-court judgment period tends to follow, be it shot selection or some other reason that has a coach looking elsewhere.
At 0-7, Wittman needs to be looking elsewhere and everywhere for a solution. Following Detroit's win on Wednesday, it's all too real that the Wizards are the NBA's only winless team.
That's why there is perhaps another reason to insert Martin somewhere in the lineup. He obviously knows how to respond when located at the bottom of a list.