With a .500 record eight games into the season, the Houston Rockets are scrambling to figure out what they are doing wrong. Performing far below expectations, there’s not any one thing the Rockets can point to as the sole reason they are losing games. That being said, the Rockets anticipate that the return of forward Donatas Motiejunas will alleviate some of their struggles.
Battling through injuries to their big men, the Rockets have mostly played with a smaller lineup in order to better space the floor on the offensive end. The obvious problem with a small lineup is that the Rockets are at a disadvantage when it comes to protecting the rim and rebounding the ball.
Motiejunas possesses the ability to both spread the floor and excel around the glass. With Motiejnuas’ size the Rockets would easily be a better rebounding team. As of now, the Rockets rank eighteenth in rebounds per game, which is an improvement over where they were a week ago, but still not good enough.
Dwight Howard has been great so far this season, averaging 13.2 rebounds per game. Much of the Rockets rebounding struggles comes when Howard or backup center Clint Capela have to clean up mistakes close to the basket. After Howard and Capela force opponents to miss their shots, the rest of the Rockets small lineup has been unable to be consistent on the boards.
The Rockets have chosen spacing over rebounding by playing a small lineup. With Motiejunas the Rockets would get the best of both worlds. Shooting nearly 37% from three last season, Motiejunas would be able to properly space the floor for the Rockets while also managing to rebound the ball.
Motiejunas’ impact on the Rockets roster is underrated. With Howard missing half of last season, much of the Rockets’ success was due to Motiejunas’ elevated level of play. As the Rockets most consistent offensive weapon behind James Harden, Motiejunas took advantage of defenders with his post moves.
Aside from spacing the floor, the Rockets were also able to change the pace of the game with Motiejunas in the lineup. Instead of just looking towards Harden to create plays, the Rockets were able to play in-an-out with Motiejunas in order to get looks that opposing teams were not used to.
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Motiejunas may not be the best low post threat in the league, but he has the most consistent low post game of anyone in a Rockets uniform, and because of that he is able to provide the Rockets with a different style of offense.
The Rockets miss Motiejunas. He is the stretch four the team needs in order to run their style of offense. Right now, however, the Rockets have more problems than just the absence of Motiejunas. The team just hasn’t been playing with much heart. While Motiejunas would be great to have back, the Rockets have to raise their intensity on both ends of the courtl in order to win basketball games.
With no clear sign of a quick return for Motiejunas, look for the Rockets to increase their energy in his absence.
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