This past year has been one of extreme highs and lows for Houston Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas. Sunday he celebrated his 25th birthday and enters the beginning of what should be the prime of his career.
It’s not unusual for big men to develop at a slower pace compared to their back court counterparts. Players like Motiejunas who have demonstrated the ability to play either power forward or center are rare. It’s also unusual to find a big who is equally adept at working in the paint or can spread the court.
Young big men tend to become specialists in either one area of the court or the other and even fewer are a legitimate 7 feet tall. Examining the current top NBA bigs only DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis have demonstrated the ability to dominate both inside and outside the paint and also be capable of playing either front court position.
— Free Throw Line (@Free_Throw_Line) September 20, 2015
To that end, there is a player who shares many commonalities with DeMo: Jonas Valanciunas is another 7′ Lithuanian who also just finished his third season and plays the center position. Perhaps this comparison best demonstrates how versatile Motiejunas is.
J.V. may have the edge in rebounding, but he can’t spread the floor, isn’t as fast as Motiejunas and is more of a inside paint specialist. While Valanciunas is a great free throw shooter for a big he isn’t comfortable letting the ball fly from outside 10 feet and definitely has a ways to go to catch up to DeMo’s ball handling skills.
Still, J.V. has been dominate in EuroBasket 2015 leading his team to the finals (where they lost to Spain) and securing an Olympic berth along the way. With a healthy Motiejunas who will no doubt play power forward beside Valanciunas in Rio it makes Lithuania a definite medal possibility. The other big news for Valanciunas this summer was he signed a 4-year $64 million rookie contract extension with the Toronto Raptors. His contract may well set a precedent for negotiations between the Rockets and Motiejunas as he also looks to lock down a long term contract with the Rockets.
Last season Motiejunas seemingly jumped out of the gate when the Rockets were decimated by injuries to their front court it was his emergence which allowed Houston to stay atop of the Western Conference. We credit James Harden for all he did to ensure Houston didn’t suffer the same fate as Oklahoma City and Miami who endured a similar fate via the number of man games lost due to star injuries. Yet the Rockets excelled in spite of their bad luck to finish second in the West behind the efforts of Harden, Motiejunas and Ariza.
@DonatasMot Happy Birthday!
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) September 21, 2015
Thrust into a new role early last season Motiejunas rose to the challenge showcasing massive growth, improving in almost every vital statistical category. As players returned and the team picked up Josh Smith in late December, DeMo continued to alternate between the two front court positions complementing whoever he was paired with. His improvements were so vast it was Terrence Jones who became associated with almost every trade rumor.
As good as Motiejunas was for 71 games a late season back injury not only removed any chance for him to play in the post season, it also ultimately led to April back surgery.
Last week we learned his back hasn’t healed fully, so he won’t be available for the Houston Rockets training camp and no time table for his return has been formally stated.
In the past week the team secured Montrezl Harrell and added Joshua Smith to a training camp contract. The urgency with which the Rockets made those 2 moves tends to make us all wonder just how serious Motiejunas current health is.
We’ll hope it’s just a matter of the team taking precautions to ensure DeMo is 100% healthy when he does return. Looking ahead to this season with a healthy DeMo the Rockets boast arguably the deepest front court in the Association with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones , Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell, Trevor Ariza and Sam Dekker confirmed and one position open which is likely to be filled by another big.
Thanks for the birthday wishes and let's support Lithuanian national team at #EuroBasket2015 final game with the Spain!!! Varom!!!!
— Donatas Motiejunas (@DonatasMot) September 20, 2015
As per the above tweet DeMo thanked the numerous people who sent him birthday wishes and asked for support of his native Lithuania in their EuroBaskets 2015 gold medal match. As it turned out Spain won the game, but his team secured their Olympic berth by virtue of reaching the final.
At Space City Scoop, we have a little more selfish birthday wish for Donatas and that is for him to have a speedy recovery en route to reaching 100% health and for him to continue his ascent up the Association ladder. As he reaches the quarter century mark we look forward to many more highlights from the big man who has become one of Clutch City’s favorites. Here’s to your 25th Birthday Donatas, may this be the best year of your life and career!
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