The ‘next man up’ mentality is a widely used term throughout the world of sports. It’s cliche but a sentiment that’s unequivocally valid. 

Malik Monk’s indefinite suspension was a rather unfortunate development for the Hornets – as he was in the midst of the best stretch of his career. However, Monk’s absence allowed rookie Cody Martin to get an extensive opportunity to have the ball in his hands and breakthrough, showing the Hornets why they invested a high second-round pick in the Nevada guard. 

His recent outburst has not been on the defensive end – as that has been a consistent staple to his game – but rather on offense with his playmaking and vision. His innate ability to find his teammate’s high-quality looks is opening up a new dimension in the Hornets’ offense. As I have said several times, Cody Martin’s playmaking is just as impressive as his defense, especially for a rookie. 

Over Martin’s previous five games, he is averaging 5.6 assists per game, adding 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals. He has been one of the more impactful Hornets as of late, resulting in him playing over 27 minutes per game since February 20th. 

Sunday against the Houston Rockets, Cody Martin tallied nine assists as opposed to just one turnover. It was another outing where he showcased his keen ability to generate offense for his teammates.

It took time for Cody Martin to settle into a role that best suited his needs with the Hornets but now he’s finally in a spot where his skills are maximized. His playmaking ability has opened up a new dimension within the Hornets’ offense. 

Cody’s initial struggles in Summer League

“That was one thing I was kind of frustrated about and dealing with during Summer League was that I didn’t play the best at that position as I wanted to,” Cody told The Painted Lines regarding his struggles playing point guard. “After Vegas, that was something I was really focusing on before training camp. Just understanding that getting to my spots was going to be a little different and more challenging than it was in college. So that’s just been one aspect of my game I have constantly been trying to improve.”

The Hornets drafted Martin to be a playmaker – a role he was quite comfortable playing at Nevada where he was the Wolfpack’s point guard – but his transition to doing that in the NBA would need time. He got a taste of what the NBA looks like in Summer League last July and it was an awakening for Martin. He used the frustration he experienced in Vegas as motivation to prepare and grind of the NBA season.

Initially in a foreign role offensively

Prior to the All-Star break, Cody Martin spent the majority of his time on offense this season moving without the ball, waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities, along with crashing the offensive glass. Three-point shooting and playing without the ball in his hands was not a role tailored to Cody’s skills. 

This odd role resulted in inconsistent playing time where the rookie would enter the game to solely provide defense and energy. Martin was not expected to be a major contributor offensively and he struggled to find a rhythm shooting the ball.

“When I wasn’t playing as much I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to feel like I had to make every shot I took,” Martin told The Painted Lines. “I wouldn’t get the most shot attempts so the ones I did get I put a lot of pressure on myself to knock them down.”

James Borrego saw flashes of Martin’s playmaking but not the full extent of it until an opportunity arose to get the Nevada product some extended playing time. Martin seized an opportunity to take advantage of extra minutes and an elevated role.

A surprise to his coach

“The more the merrier,” as James Borrego often says in regards to having more playmakers on the floor to maximize his team’s offense. Borrego’s team thrives with unselfish playmakers due to the imperative need for rapid ball movement – one of the Hornets’ most crucial components on offense. 

On Sunday, for example, the Hornets defeated the Rockets in a game where Charlotte totaled 29 assists on 37 made shots. Cody Martin was a major contributor to that. Three weeks ago you would not have suspected the rookie would total nine assists in the fashion he did so on Sunday.

Borrego knew Cody Martin was a talented playmaker coming out of college – one of the main reasons they drafted him – but did not see it to this extent. The degree to which Cody has showcased his playmaking ability has far surpassed what JB originally predicted.   

“He has more playmaking than I originally thought,” Borrego told The Painted Lines. “We looked at him as a playmaker but the way he’s been able to handle it at this level has been a bright surprise for us. 

“He’s making the right play whether that’s pick-and-roll or in transition. Most times he’s finding the open man. It gives us a third playmaker now on the floor. Now missing Malik we are adding another playmaker in Cody who has played tremendously in that area. Cody is an example of a guy stepping into that role, taking pressure off Devonte’ [Graham] and Terry [Rozier].”

Adding Cody Martin to the equation

“Obviously, having the ball in my hands makes me feel more comfortable and get a feel for the game more when I’m out there,” Martin told TPL. “I’ve been in positions where I’ve made plays and had the ball in my hands frequently. At Nevada, I played a lot of point guard so I know I have the capability to do that and make plays and find my open teammates. It is just getting better over time with more experience.” 

It is apparent how natural Cody is as a facilitator. With the addition of another playmaker, it allows his teammates to hunt for openings around the key. He creates offense for every player on the floor in every way imaginable. He throws lobs on the break, attracts help defenders on drives where he dishes it around to a big at the rim or kicking it out to shooters, for example.

As you can see in the video below, Cody makes a variety of passes on the floor to almost every location. His innate ability to sense openings and holes in defenses is a rare quality for a young guard. 

“We see playmaking, solid vision and passing from him,” Borrego said. “We see a lot of that off the pick-and-roll, dribble hand-offs, or in driving situations. If he continues down this path we have another major playmaker out there for us. That’s big for us.”

He has only been in this role to this extent for three weeks – his skills are only continuing to improve as he becomes more comfortable within the offense 

“When I play more I get to show more especially on the offensive end, just showing I can impact the game on both ends of the floor, and now coach [Borrego] is starting to feel more and more comfortable giving me opportunities to handle the ball,” Martin told TPL. “He understands I’m not a selfish player and that I’m going to make the right plays and that I have a pass-first mentality. My teammates see that and my stats show that. My mindset is just to go out there and make the right plays to help us win.”

 JB constantly challenges his young guard to play smarter because there’s always room for growth. Borrego is fully cognizant of his guards’ potential and the reason why he is hard on him at times, even after a nine assist game, one turnover game.

“I was on his tail in the locker room after the game,” Borrego said. “He had nine assists, and his crazy coach was on him about one turnover.”

Borrego is giving Cody the freedom to operate in space

JB has seen the value Martin serves as a playmaker and in doing so it has opened up the team’s offense. Martin now has the freedom to create in various ways. He does so off the pick-and-roll, he can get a rebound on defense and push the pace, and he often finds teammates hovering around the three-point line on drive and kicks.

“Allowing me to push the ball up the floor off misses helps get Devonte’ get in a better position to score instead of him having to bring the ball up and work so hard to get a shot off,” Martin said. “It also throws opponents off when they don’t have the ball. Ultimately it’s just second nature for me. At Nevada, I was always the one to bring the ball up. I still have that capability so it’s nice that they feel comfortable with allowing me to push the ball.”

It’s obvious how much confidence Borrego has in the young guard as it allows the Hornets to play at the pace JB desires. Martin can grab a rebound and push it himself without wasting time to defer to another guard.

“He’s doing a great job for us with how he plays with pace, how he moves the ball for us,” Borrego said. “He’s a very unselfish player and that’s very contagious for our team. I think that’s a big factor in our 29 assists tonight (Saturday) on 37 made shots. When one guy is doing it, two guys doing, three guys doing it, now everyone’s doing it.”

That unselfish mindset is contagious and as JB said, has a trickle-down effect on the entire roster (as the Tweet below illustrates). 

Taking pressure off Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier

The goal for any coach is to find easier shots for their best players. A recurring issue for the Hornets had been finding more efficient ways to get Terry Rozier, and more importantly, Devonte’ Graham higher percentage looks on offense – until recently.

Rozier has settled into his role off-ball quite smoothly this season but after Devonte’s outbreak early in the season, teams have honed in on Graham’s threat as a three-point shooter. This has resulted in a difficult transition for Graham to find efficient ways to get shots off at a high frequency. It’s taken time for Graham to make the necessary adjustments but now it seems as if he’s found his groove again.

Graham is averaging 20.6 points per game over his past five games entering Monday, including 23-points in the Hornets’ 108-99 win over the Houston Rockets Saturday. Much of Graham’s recent renaissance is attributed to other playmakers on the floor finding him around the perimeter in his spots, notably Cody Martin. All four of Graham’s threes were assisted on Sunday.

Cody Martin is not only creating quality looks for Graham but Terry Rozier as well.

“Yeah, Cody has been helping me and Terry out. I’ve been telling him to stay aggressive,” Devonte’ Graham told The Painted Lines. “I tell him all the time he needs to get to the paint because he’s a bigger guard. When he gets to the paint, we know he’s a good passer, so we stay ready because he can get us the ball to shoot. It’s helping us out for sure. I just tell him to stay in attack mode.”

Cody Martin now is that guy and more, getting the Hornets’ top two scorers plenty of high-quality field goal attempts

“It’s tough for Devonte’ and Terry because their ability to stretch the floor is on the scouting report,” Cody Martin told TPL. “Teams know coming in that they have to hone in on those two, knowing they’re going to get the most shots. We understand that as well so it’s just a matter of trying to make the game easier for those two so they don’t have to work as hard to get their shots. When I come in I obviously always play hard but it’s just as important to come in and make the game easier for my teammates.”

Devonte’ and Terry shared the floor with Martin to close out the fourth quarter Saturday. Both guards took advantage of having another distributor on the floor as they knocked down several threes off passes from Cody Martin (as you can see in the clip below).

As previously mentioned, Cody Martin’s playmaking has opened a whole new dimension in the Hornets’ offense. They have been competing with some of the league’s best teams over the past week and a half. Cody Martin gets his fair share of credit not only for his defensive play but more importantly his ability to create offense for his teammates.