Introduction and youth
Sergi Martínez, now playing for FC Barcelona’s B side in LEB Oro, was the standout player for the 1999 Spanish generation and perhaps the most decorated FC Barcelona youth player in recent history. In his youth career, he has been featured in the All-Tournament Teams of essentially all the summer events he participated in, gaining said honours in the European U16 Championships in , in the U17 World Championships of and in the U18 European Championship in . He featured heavily on both Barça and Spanish National Team rosters even when playing up a year in competition, including in the FC Barcelona team that won the 2016 Euroleague ANGT. With such a decorated background, the fairytale story would have Sergi Martínez as a player well on his way to succeeding at the very highest levels. However, as happens occasionally, the transition from youth to pros is not as simple as that.
Martínez excelled in youth basketball playing the power forward position. He was an extremely productive player at all stages and had a rather developed physical profile, especially being notably strong for his age group. He scored with ease in several different situations, including through off-ball cuts, in the low post or in the fastbreak, where his combination of strength and mobility proved tough to handle for under-18 opponents. Given his physical gifts and his gritty mentality, Martínez excelled too as a rebounder, being among the leaders in rebounding categories in every tournament he played. As for his perimeter skills, Martínez was able to occasionally shoot from deep and especially showed good ability driving towards the rim, mostly in a straight line. However, his overall game in youth basketball clearly fit the archetype of a big man as opposed to that of a prospective wing player.
Sergi Martínez: his evolution and current outlook
Statistics (LEB Gold):
17/18: 25.3 mpg, 7.3 ppg (42% FG, 20.8% 3pt, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.1 spg.
18/19: 26.2 mpg, 9.1 ppg (41% FG, 31.7% 3pt, 4.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.7 spg.
As we have already established, Martínez’s game fit the mould of a big man quite seamlessly. But at the end of day, he was undersized at only 6’7 and his strength was not as big an advantage in the professional ranks as it was against under 18 competition. Therefore, FC Barcelona decided to go for a full reconversion, attempting to adapt Martínez’s game so he could be a wing player down the road.
Last season in Barça’s B team in LEB Oro (Spanish second division), Sergi Martínez played as a small forward when he shared the court with Nedovic, an even more undersized but still interior player. Now, with the arrivals of Tyler Rawson and Jaime Fernández, he has been displaced full time to the wing positions.
Some of his strengths as a player are clearly translatable to the wing position. For instance, Martínez’s off-ball movement can easily be a staple of his game as a wing: he has very good offensive awareness and instincts, and can also play above the rim if given time and space. This off-ball cutting can easily be a part of a wing’s repertoire at the highest levels, both cutting back door when defences load up on the strong side and front-cutting in order to get deep post position if matched up against smaller wings.
His ability producing in the post, however, has not translated as smoothly to the pros. Playing against opponents with similar or better physical gifts, he has struggled to finish inside at the same rate. He still has good touch around the rim and is able to use his speed to gain an initial advantage, but he is unable to generate the same space as in youth categories. His rebounding numbers, while far from the excellent figures he used to put up in U16 and U18, are very good for a perimeter player of his age and at his level and should translate if he progresses to the next level. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that he still shows a talent for passing, especially out of low post situations, where his experience as a high-usage big man in youth categories has paid off.
Shooting was always bound to be the biggest obstacle in Martínez’s transition to being a full-time wing. Martínez never had the most orthodox shooting mechanics: his feet are not well aligned during the shooting motion, with his right foot slightly ahead of his left. Despite getting good rise on his shot, he also has a somewhat slow and winding release, which makes it easier for defenders to help in the lane and still recover and contest the shot. It will be very important for Martínez to improve in this arena for him to continue progressing as a wing, and, to his credit, there has been a clear progression from last season to this one, with more attempts and higher percentages, even if there is plenty of room for improvement still.
Another potential question mark for Martínez to turn himself into a wing player was his dribbling. At the youth level, he was always confident launching fastbreaks and even running them himself. Now at the senior level, he is a constant fake to pump fake and then drive to the rim. It is clear that, whether by the coaching staff’s instructions or per Martínez’s own initiative, he is trying to get involved in more ball handling situations in games, even if he currently seems to desist quite quickly and pass the ball to a teammate the moment he gets cut off by the defenders. Further improvement in this area will be key for him to keep making progress as a wing player at the highest levels.
On the defensive side of the ball, Martínez has one important asset that should contribute to his progression: his mobility. Modern basketball is increasingly shifting towards switching defences in the pick and roll, and Martínez has shown to have good footwork in this realm. Although he is still unable to stay in front of quicker guards and wings, he is able to use his speed and strength to contain most small forwards and power forwards and prevent easy shots. His wingspan and his wide frame, which he has added plenty of muscle in the past couple of years, help him deal with different opponents. He must continue to improve his lateral speed in order to be fully switchable, but his progression in this aspect has been impressive considering that it was perhaps his biggest question mark upon finishing his youth basketball career.
Conclusion and future outlook
Although the decision to try to turn Sergi Martínez into a perimeter player is evidently the right one, it seems clear too that this decision might have arrived a bit later than it should have, and that the progression up to this point has been somewhat slow. However, Sergi Martínez hasn’t even turned 20 yet and has plenty of room for improvement and time on his side. Furthermore, Martínez showed excellent awareness of his current situation, deciding to forgo his participation in last summer’s U20 European Championship and instead heading to the CP3 Academy in Winston-Salem, where he worked extensively on his shooting and on his body. These skills, along with his ball-handling ability, will probably determine whether he can make the transition to a full-time wing player and ultimately dictate ceiling as a prospect.