Does Donatas Motiejunas’ Back Affect Houston Rockets Short and Long Term Goals?

Dec 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) dribbles against San Antonio Spurs forward David West (30) in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) dribbles against San Antonio Spurs forward David West (30) in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Donatas Motiejunas missed the last outing versus the San Antonio Spurs and based on how poorly the Houston Rockets played in the second half he may be happy he did.

Though it’s unlikely his presence would have lifted the Rockets  defensively in the second half his absence does point out some interesting coincidences in Houston’s performances this season.

Since returning to the line-up in the Rockets have progressively improved on both ends of the court (this last week not withstanding). It had me wondering if part of the issue in H-Town is tied to the production of not just Motiejunas but the power forward position.

When DeMo has been healthy the team has definitely experienced an upward tick in wins and assuming this back issue dated back a few games it’s reasonable to assume some of the losses last week were partially a result of DeMo not being able to go fully on either end of the court and the pressure that added at the four.

When you set goals, something inside of you starts saying: "Let's go, let's go," and ceilings start to move up

— Donatas Motiejunas (@DonatasMot) January 2, 2016

After taking longer to return to action than initially estimated following his microdiscectomy surgery  it was felt doctors and team conditioning staff were erring on the side of safety.  Motiejunas had been hoping to return in time for training camp after missing the inal 11 games of last season and all of the playoffs, but he was not cleared for contact or practice until part way into the schedule. And so, it was 21 games into this season that Motiejunas finally donned a jersey and took to the court.

In his 14 games of action he has registered a game average of 5.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 assist, is shooting over 50% from the field and a career high 41.2% from behind the arc.  During the big man’s 20 game absence the Rockets posted an 11-9 record and in his first 11 games back the Rockets went 7 -4.

Then they hit their current 4-game losing streak. Though his presence and contribution haven’t been the demonstrative factors in wins or losses it could be argued his presence was making a difference especially in terms of spacing and recently he had started to string together some solid outings despite limited playing time.

"They’re going to work with him and see how he responds." —J.B. Bickerstaff on Donatas Motiejunas who is day-to-day

— Rockets Nation (@Rockets__Nation) January 5, 2016

Looking back at how well the Rockets navigated all the injuries last season perhaps there should be more emphasis placed on what Motiejunas brought to the court in his assistance to James Harden. Certainly he adds scoring, however his offensive versatility was key not just in terms of scoring but also in his ability to move the ball, space the floor and defend his own position (though an often under rated asset). 

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This season his win shares, value over replacement and offensive/defensive on/off court numbers have paled in comparison to last season, but there is more to factor in as he was building back into game shape. What doesn’t get noted is how his presence on the floor shifted how the opposition dealt with the Rockets.

Moving forward though the team is saying this is just a precaution, one has to wonder if Motiejunas will always be plagued with back concerns or if like Dwight Howard this process could take several years until he is truly able to compete at 100%. Moreover the fact DeMo is in the growth stage of his career, the other compelling question is whether this back issue will stunt the big man’s ability to continue his ascent upward or if he’ll be held back until his back doesn’t limit him.

Coupled with those questions are whether DeMo will remain with Houston as he decided to enter his rookie contract extension season as a free agent. What that means is Motiejunas could spend the entire season in and out of the line-up dealing with rehabbing his back and returning to 100% and then could sign with another team in the off season.

Sure, the Rockets can match that offer, but could this turn into another Chandler Parsons situation and if the team continues to suffer off the court will the Lithuanian be inclined to want to leave for a more cohesive team?

Bottom line, while the narrative continues to focus on how the Houston Rockets can exceed last seasons Western Conference Finals perhaps there are other equally compelling issues to address. Like how the current leadership, chemistry malaise and  coaching decisions will affect the rest of the roster and their decisions moving forward!

Hey, it might not be as pressing of an issue, but when you look at any successful organization it’s not just their current roster that management focuses on. Rather it’s the identity of the team, fundamental principles they embody and long term future which determine the ultimate health of a franchise.

At this stage, owner Leslie Alexander and GM Daryl Morey should keep that in mind as undoubtedly major decisions will be made in the near future, especially if the Rockets continue to lose.

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