Houston Rockets Year End Player Review: Power Forward Edition

Feb 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) shoots against Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Josh Smith (5) in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 113 to 102. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) shoots against Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Josh Smith (5) in the second half at Toyota Center. Rockets won 113 to 102. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Rockets power forward position has been in flux for the better part of  four years. There’s never been a player who unanimously met the starting position standards. Now the Rockets find themselves in an unique position of  possibly losing them all in free agency. Welcome to the End of Year Player Reviews: Power Forward Edition featuring: Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith.

If anything the 2015-2016 season will come down in history as a weird season for the Houston Rockets. It wasn’t particularly awful but it seemed that everything the Rockets players and staff tried went wrong.

But no other starting lineup position suffered more than power forward. Whether the coach was Kevin McHale or J.B. Bickerstaff experiments and attempts to make anything work out followed one after another. All of them had one thing in common though: they sacrificed the power forward position.

And as the season progressed the failed strategies piled up: playing with two bigs starting Clint Capela; playing small ball starting Marcus Thornton and having Ariza as the PF; bringing back Josh Smith; jumping way too soon on the Montrezl Harrell bandwagon; even signing Chuck Hayes! (remember Chuck Hayes? He played at PF this season with the Rockets).

Thus it’s no coincidence that the Rockets had throughout the season no less than 6 players alternating the starting gig.

  • Clint Capela played 35 games
  • D-Mo started 22 games
  • Terrence Jones – 11 games
  • Josh Smith – 6 games
  • Montrezl Harrell – 1 game
  • Finishing it up: Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza shared the power forward position in another 7 opportunities.

No other position in the Houston Rockets starting lineup endured this much turnover in personnel.

This article will be focusing on the three players the Texan team risk losing on the offseason: the restricted FAs Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas and the unrestricted FA Josh Smith or as Clutch City likes to refer to them TJ, D-Mo and J-Smoove.

And while it’s safe to say that the future is murky at best for at least two of them, an argument can still be made as to whether any of these three players will be in Houston for the 2016-2017 season.

Next: Unproductive Regular Season

Apr 21, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) celebrates with forward Terrence Jones (6) against the Dallas Mavericks in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Rockets won 111 to 99. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

2015-2016 Regular Season Overview

Donatas Motiejunas: 37 Games (22 Starts) 14.8 minutes per game (mpg), 6.2 points per game (ppg), 2.9 rebounds per game (rpg)

Terrence Jones: 50 Games (11 Starts) 20.9 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Josh Smith: 23 Games (6 Starts) 18.3 mpg, 6.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 assists per game (apg)

You can’t clearly see it only through this year stats, so I’ll highlight it for readers. Take a look at Josh, TJ and D-Mo’s stats from last year:

Motiejunas: 71 Games, 28.7 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg

Jones: 33 Games, 26.9 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 blocks per game (bpg)

Smith: 55 Games, 25.5 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 2.6 apg

You can clearly see the huge drop off in all their stats. As opportunities withered, playing time decreased and resulted into an unbelievable slip in all key aspects of their production.

Donatas Motiejunas played primarily in the final third portion of the season and arguably was still trying to regain his athleticism and general feel of the game back. But, Terrence Jones simply got buried deep on the bench as his bad performances mounted.

Meanwhile Josh Smith who started the season in Los Angeles, rapidly fell from grace due to his lack of opportunities returned to Houston. Despite having a small impact in his first games after the comeback he couldn’t keep up his performances and likewise saw a decline in his playing time .

Enter Michael Beasley. And although he is not the focus of our article the reigning Chinese Basketball Association MVP gulped down the power forward minutes with strong showings and offensive productivity.

It’s tough to confirm if any of those players really took a step back in their development or if it was only a matter of opportunities and injuries. Though Motiejunas and Jones are still fairly young this was supposed to be the famous “contract year” for both of them.

It’s another thing completely regarding Josh Smith as he is a player already reaching the twilight of his career and once again saw an even bigger decrease in his numbers.

Next: Hopeful Postseason

Apr 21, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) shoots the ball as Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) defends during the fourth quarter in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets won 97-96. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Playoff Stats

Even if it’s true that Terrence Jones didn’t have any chances in the postseason, the same can’t be said about Motiejunas and Josh Smith who in many ways had a relatively more productive postseason.

I’d go even further and say that perhaps Donatas Motiejunas may have done enough to guarantee a deal to stay in Houston via a new multi year contract (provided he doesn’t command top dollars in free agency).

While the outcome of the series was much expected the one match-up I was eager to watch was Draymond Green vs Donatas Motiejunas. And to an extent I’d say D-Mo didn’t disappoint. The Lithuanian was able to get his points in the post, drive Green backwards and even score from the three-point line.

Motiejunas also displayed a level of competitiveness rarely seen on this Rockets roster showcasing some gutsy performances.

Motiejunas  averaged 19.6 minutes (note: this is not a true average given the scattered minutes due to Bickerstaff’s clueless rotations) 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

As for Josh Smith he had unexpected impact in Game 1, off the bench to score 7 points in just 8 minutes of playing time. He returned the next night and got more opportunities in Game 2: 18 minutes. However Josh could only score 9 points – all from beyond the arc shots and committed 5 fouls.

Regarding the defensive aspect of the game Josh was largely disappointing. Though he did exhibit a level of leadership on and off court instructing his colleagues, especially Dwight Howard.

Next: Strong Performances

Mar 19, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) and center Dwight Howard (12) and forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) and forward Michael Beasley (8) and guard Jason Terry (31) react on the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Rockets 109-97. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Season Highlights

Despite not having their best years, the three power forwards featured in this article had some nice moments this season. Granted: none of them broke any records or had off the chart performances. Still, they managed to put up solid numbers on a couple of occasions.

Specifically Motiejunas who had his first ever postseason double-double against the Warriors in Game 3 (14 points, 13 rebounds)

But that was not even his best performance as the big man from Lithuania tallied 18 points and 6 rebounds for an unprecedented +/- positive 37 against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 14th:

Regarding Terrence Jones his best performances came at the beginning of the season particularly in the first three months.

A particular strong showing came on November 13th when Terrence Jones showed all his versatility scoring 23 points (on a 9-for-12 shooting effort, including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc) got 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. Everything in just 21 minutes of playing time.

Finishing off we have Josh Smith and his best showing was arguably against the Dallas Mavericks on January 24th, his second game with the Rockets after he came back from the Clippers:

Josh ended up with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Filling up his stat sheet in only 23 minutes of playing time.

Next: Free Agency Straight Ahead

Jan 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones (6) warms up before playing against the Utah Jazz at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Uncertain Futures

It’s still highly doubtful the Rockets will retain the services of many of their players this year, let alone the ones with expiring contracts or entering free agency. The Rockets roster is due a revamp next season as Daryl Morey attempts a change in culture and rebuilding around James Harden.

Can talk about Harden. Much (most?) of rest of roster will change. Think back to Rockets (or Pacers) 2, 3 yrs ago. https://t.co/h5DTr6MRBe

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) May 5, 2016

That said I fear that at least two of the three players featured here will be sent packing. Let’s briefly discuss each scenario:

The Case for Josh Smith

The most unlikely player to be retained by the Houston Rockets is Josh Smith. He is an unrestricted free agent and might be looking for one last pay day on a struggling team willing to give him the minutes and the confidence.

However it’s also entirely possible that Josh doesn’t find any takers even with the spike in cap space. Therefore he could still be available at a discount price after the initial free agents are nabbed.

And with the Detroit Pistons paying him over 5 Million Dollars until the 2019-2020 season it’s plausible that Josh settles for a veteran’s minimum deal with the Rockets or with a contender.

Why staying in Houston though? I believe this half season with the Clippers showed Josh it’s better to stay with people who trust in you to compete and play, then to go to the team that simply wants to take you away from the opponent.

I still maintain that J-Smoove can be a valuable asset to the Rockets whether for his leadership or his defensive skills.

The Case for Terrence Jones

After an utterly disappointing season Houston Rockets fans are overly displeased with Terrence Jones and had them a say on the matter he would be as good as gone.

I’d say that if it were only up to the Rockets then they were likely to keep TJ.

Despite not having the best season of his career Terrence Jones still has some upside and while Bickerstaff was clearly not a fan of the player one has to wonder if under a different coach Jones could return to his productive ways.

But Jones has been falling in every key stat since the 2013-2014 season and add to the fact that Jones history with odd-injuries could also play a factor in Rockets evaluation of the player.

More from Space City Scoop

When all is said and done we could say that Terrence Jones chances of remaining a Rocket are slim.

The Case for Donatas Motiejunas

Before the trade deadline I’d never expect the Houston Rockets trading or getting rid of Donatas Motiejunas.

I still believe the Rockets got the better end of the Pistons voiding the deal. That was one of the most insane deals I’ve ever came across in the Morey era.

It only goes to prove you can never predict which players are untouchable. With that in mind Motiejunas has probably signed his own check in the postseason. He proved he’s healthy, valuable, capable of scoring effectively and can still return to his previous form in due time.

If you are a follower of Donatas Motiejunas on twitter or Facebook you could see how much work he puts in shooting the basket and getting in shape. However in order to become Houston Rockets most desired stretch four he still needs to put some work on this shots from beyond the arc and defensively.

I believe teams will be pushing hard for Motiejunas signing in this offseason. Nevertheless D-Mo also knows how much he is revered by Red Nation and might feel he owes the team and fans for their trust and patience while he rehabilitated himself.

Much is going to change in H-town this offseason but as far as the Power Forward position goes, Donatas Motiejunas is probably a couple steps ahead of his competition.

Be sure to check out our Draft Prospect Series and the entire Year End Player Review Series.

Next: Change is Inevitable

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