With word breaking on Tuesday that he has been cleared to return to practice, the Houston Rockets are growing more eager for the return of their 7-foot Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas.
Motiejunas will first test the waters with full-contact practice, and if all goes smoothly, the Rockets hope to get him back on the court within the next couple of games. Though it would be naive to think that Motiejunas is the solution to the Rockets’ problems, it’s within reason to expect Motiejunas to help the Rockets turn their season around.
A central part of the Rockets’ 2014-2015 success, Motiejunas is the Rockets most underrated player. He has yet to reach all-star status, but much like Trevor Ariza, Motiejunas is a vital role player who gives the Rockets exactly what they expect of him night in and night out.
— Donatas Motiejunas (@DonatasMot) December 1, 2015
Motiejunas averaged 15 points and 7 boards last season, shooting 54% from two and 37% from deep. His shooting numbers establish him as a big man that can score within the paint and from behind the arc– the type of player that is being featured more and more on every NBA roster, and the type of player that the Rockets have been without so far this season.
Motiejunas’ consistency on offense spaces the floor for the rest of the team. At 7-foot, Motiejunas’ three point percentage is impressive. If the Rockets choose to run a small-ball lineup with Motiejunas at center, the Rockets will have a three point threat at each postion, a style of play that continues to increase in popularity across the league.
Perhaps more impressive than his three point shooting, however, is his footwork inside the paint. Motiejunas’ post moves are as good as any player’s in the league, and unmatched by any of his teammates.
The Rockets have found ways to get points in the paint without Motiejunas, but they have been unable to rely on any of their big men to consistently score on the post with their back to the basket. Now, when the Rockets struggle to shoot the three, as they have all season, they will be able to throw it down low to Motiejunas for some easy buckets.
Motiejunas’ effectiveness in the paint will not only result in consistent low-post scoring, but open shots from behind the arc as well. As teams are forced to focus on Motiejunas in the paint, he will be able to find unguarded teammates whose defender has left them in order to help on defense.
While the best part of Motiejunas’ game is without a doubt his offensive abilities, something deserves to be mentioned of his play on the defensive end as well. It goes without saying that Motiejunas will never be the defensive juggernaut that Dwight Howard is, but he excels in an area where there Rockets have struggled so far this season– positional defense.
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I can recall more than a handful of times where Dwight Howard has successfully challenged a shot only to see the opposing team score off of an offensive rebound because of poor defensive rotation.
Or there have been times where Howard has had to help defend the pick and roll , and again, the rim is left unprotected because the other Rockets big man has failed to make the proper rotation.
Motiejunas plays smart, and while he’s not going to block the shots that Howard does, he isn’t required to. The Rockets need him to be in a suitable defensive position as offenses begin to force their defense to shift, which he usually is.
As I already mentioned, Motiejunas will not be the end all solution to the Rockets’ problems, but he will be able to alleviate some of the Rockets’ struggles. His ability to score the ball from multiple areas on the court, along with his understanding of where to rotate on the defensive end of the ball makes Motiejunas an integral part of the Rockets roster.
Motiejunas has a lot to do with why the Rockets were able to find success even with Howard missing half of last season. The sooner Motiejunas can get back on the court, the better, seeing that he will most likely have to shake off some rust. Look for Motiejunas to be inserted into the lineup within the coming weeks, and for the Rockets to find success in areas that they have thus far failed.
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