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Houston Rockets: Impact of Donatas Motiejunas

Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) after a play during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) after a play during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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As Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas continues to get healthy, look for him to have a positive impact on the remainder of the Rockets’ season.

Choosing to reinsert Donatas Motiejunas into the starting lineup Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Houston Rockets believe that fourth-year power forward Motiejunas will play a pivotal role in helping the Rockets to reach their potential as they finish off the 2015-2016 NBA regular season.

After being traded away by the Rockets at the trade deadline, Motiejunas returned to Houston following a failed physical with the Detroit Pistons.

The exact reasons for Motiejunas’ return to Houston are in dispute. The Pistons organization claim that they recognized long-term back problems that the Rockets medical staff failed to uncover.  In an interview with Lithuanian media that was later translated on Reddit, Motiejunas responded by saying that “the injury was a pretense to call off the trade. They changed their minds“.

No matter what the reason is that the trade failed, the Rockets are delighted by Motiejunas’ return as was made evident by placing him into the starting lineup in only his second game back with the team.

How to go from damaged goods to the starting lineup in a week, by Donatas Motiejunas. pic.twitter.com/tSB771lZxT

— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) March 3, 2016

Much of last season’s success was derived from Motiejunas’ presence at the power forward position. With Dwight Howard missing half of last season, Motiejunas’ impressive post play anchored the Rockets’ front line, providing the team with a method of scoring outside of James Harden.

While Howard, holistically, is the superior big man, Motiejunas’ possesses the best post game of any player in a Rockets uniform. Being able to rely on somebody to score in the paint consistently offers the Rockets an additional option for points, while also allowing Houston to play inside out.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say an injured Motiejunas is the reason for the Rockets disappointing season, but I definitely believe that Motiejunas can help turn some things around.

Last season, Motiejunas averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds while shooting the ball 37% from deep– a number that climbed even higher during the second half of the season in which he shot the three at around 45%.

After falling victim to a back injury late last season, the Rockets seemed to roll along fine without Motiejunas, making their first appearance in the Western conference finals in  almost twenty years.

While there was hope that Motiejunas would return to the Rockets at the start of the 2015-2016 season, Motiejunas continued to suffer complications during his recovery, forcing him to miss most of the Rockets’ season.

Seemingly healthy as of late– he had a brief stint in the D-League before his NBA return– Motiejunas will be able to offer the Rockets valuable assets that they have lacked all season in low post scoring, spacing, and solid rotations on the defensive end.

Earning himself the nickname Captain Hook, Motiejunas’ adds an extra dimension to the Rockets offense with his remarkable post game. Instead of the Rockets having to run all of the offense through Harden, with Motiejunas in the lineup, the Rockets are able to get some easy buckets in the paint. Teams are forced to divide their concentration on Harden as Motiejunas is a consistent offensive threat that demands attention.

#CaptainHook pic.twitter.com/e8CtSogYVg

— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 3, 2016

What is perhaps more important than Motiejunas’ post game, however, is his ability to space the floor. Lacking a reliable power forward all season, the Rockets have had trouble creating open lanes. Because of this, the Rockets have often elected to play small ball, a strategy that helps them on the offensive end, but hurts them on defense–particularly in rebounding in which the rank 8th worst in the league.

With Motiejunas’ ability to knock down the three ball, teams must move their defense out to guard him, opening up more driving room for James Harden. In addition to his three point shooting, Motiejunas is also a fantastic passer, which creates more ball movement for the Rockets offense, allowing the entire team to find more space.

Motiejunas is the stretch four that the Rockets have been in desperate need of.

D-Mo droppin' dimes!

While Motiejunas will undoubtedly help Houston to improve on offense, the Rockets have found ways to succeed on that side of the ball without him. For Motiejunas to help the Rockets make a noticable improvement, he must find ways to help the team on defense.

Because he is somewhat lacking in athleticism, Motiejunas’ value on defense goes unnoticed. With his quick and smart defensive rotations, Motiejunas is effective at guarding his man on all areas of the court. As the demand for a stretch four on offense increases, the demand for a stretch four who can guard opposing stretch fours on defense also increases.

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Once Motiejunas is able to get his conditioning back to normal, hopefully he will be able to play the same level of defense he played last season in which he spent some time ranked as the 7th best rim protector in the league, according to writer Rahat Huq at Red 94.

All things considered, despite moving him at the trade deadline, Motiejunas is an integral part of the Rockets’ success. As I have already mentioned, it would be an exaggeration to assume that Motiejunas’ injury is the sole reason for the Rockets’ struggles this season.

That being said, Motiejunas’ return should be able to help the Rockets look more like they did last season. As Harden mentioned during the all-star break,”Hopefully, we can get D-Mo back. He was a big key to our success this year. You get D-Mo back healthy with the right mindset from the entire team and we got a chance“.

Fighting for a postseason spot, Donatas Motiejunas and the Houston Rockets will look to get in a groove as they finish off the season with the faint hope of pulling off an upset in the early rounds of the playoffs.

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