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Steady rise for K-Mart

Three years ago, the Zanesville native was relegated to Sacramento's bench until an injury to former teammate Bonzi Wells offered an opportunity to show that he warranted a first-round draft choice.

He responded by averaging 15 points in 42 games as a starter, which included 13 games of at least 20 points.

By the end of his third year, he was at a team-high 20.2 points, had the security of a $55.5 million contract extension, and became one of the league's most image-savvy stars in the process.

And that was before 2007-08.

While Kings' coach Reggie Theus deemed small forward Ron Artest the team's "best player," Martin was easily its most consistent last season.

Again he led the team in scoring - his 23.7 average ranked sixth in the league - and he was often unstoppable going to the basket, which helped him average a league-high 8.2 made free throws per game.

In the process, he became the first player in league history to shoot at least 40 percent on 3s and attempt nine free throws per game.

Still, there are improvements to be made.

"I feel like I still haven't reached my prime yet," Martin said. "I'm still young. Even though I've played a lot the last couple of years, I've only been in the league four seasons. My best years are ahead of me."

Martin, a 6-7 shooting guard, wants to continue to build his strength and improve his ball-handling - a goal he set during the offseason last year.

Through his work with longtime personal coach David Thorpe of IMG Academy in Clearwater, Fla., Martin has added more than 25 pounds of muscle since his rookie season.

But Thorpe's academy also focuses on refining Martin's individual skills, and Martin has consistently pointed to his work with him in the summer as reasons for his continued success.

"When we get in the gym he pushes me," Martin said. "We do all kinds of drills, from ball-handling to attacking from different angles - just trying to add different elements to my arsenal.

"The thing about this league," Martin added, "is that when defenders take away your first and second options (offensively), you'd better be able to find other ways to score, and that's what I've tried to do."

Thorpe said Martin's

individual success has been due largely to his versatility.

His length allows him to shoot over smaller players and score in traffic - not to mention get his hands on loose balls - while his leaping ability helps him finish in traffic and gather rebounds against smaller guards.

This season, his shooting was an equalizer against opponents who chose to take away his penetration.

"In the NBA most players are either characterized as shooters or slashers, and Kevin is one of those rare players who can do both equally well," Thorpe said. "He's to the point where he's nearly unguardable 1-on-1. He's quick enough to get to the basket and he's a good enough three-point shooter to score that way. And he gets to the line."

Yet, both see Martin getting better.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Martin said.

For now though, Martin will enjoy the coming weeks. He'll spend the month of May in Zanesville, where he'll continue to work out and again play in the Gus Macker 3-on-3 tournament, before trekking to kick it with Thorpe and Co. in June.

By late summer he figures to be back in Sacramento with the rest of his teammates.

He does have a key stop in between, however.

"I was talking to Kobe (Bryant) the other night and he thinks we should get together this summer," Martin said. "He thinks it would be a good idea for us to work out together. Could you picture us playing 1-on-1? That would be interesting. I'm sure I could learn a few tricks from that guy."

Martin will also practice with other NBA players for the USA Select team against the U.S. Olympic team in Las Vegas.

Does he foresee himself on that team one day?

"You never know," Martin said. "If I keep getting better, who knows?"

At the rate he's going, it would be hard to think otherwise.

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