Player: Donatas Motiejunas
Age: 24.032, according to B-Ref. He's on the good side of 24. We'll add this to the list of positives.
Position: Power Forward and definitely not center.
Acquired: Draft day trade with Minnesota. Rockets got D-Mo and your boy Jonny Flynn. They gave up Brad Miller and a first round pick that wound up becoming Nikola Mirotic. Ugh.
Contract Situation: Had his team option picked up earlier this month, will make $2,288,205 in 2015-2016.
Fun Fact: He revealed to the world that Dwight Howard and James Harden eat fast food together. This has been your Donatas Motiejunas Fun Fact.
Man, as if Donatas Motiejunas's name weren't complicated enough.
Previewing Donuts is like trying to figure out who ripped one in a sulphur refinery. He's the easiest write-off on the team, having by most accounts regressed following a dismal rookie season. But he hasn't had a fair chance yet, right?
Stuck behind Terrence Jones in the power forward rotation and stuck behind Omer Asik before that, D-Mo is in that weird middle ground between Known Product and Unknown Product. Maybe on a bad team, he could see enough minutes to reveal his true identity. At the moment, the Rockets are not a bad team, so unless Motiejunas delivers instant results, he's going to have short leash.
When I was 7, I won an auction (read: parents won an auction after I pointed and whined) for an autographed Clyde Drexler basketball. I still have it next to my bed. It looks great. Will I ever play basketball with it? Absolutely not. And I wonder if Donuts is of the same mold. Everything looks great in warmups and in whimsical situations, where he lets his natural talent off its chain. But in the heat of the game, D-Mo has not lived up to his potential. At this point, he looks better than he has played.
Three-point shooting big man? Career .269 shooter from behind the arc. Power forward who can also play center? Grabs only 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Versatile in the post? Half his moves wind up eventually doing the same thing.
But the scary thing is that all of a sudden, he could start shooting the ball well from deep, rebounding like he should be and adding the necessary kinks to his post arsenal so as to not look so uncoordinated and robotic. It's all THERE, somewhere. And I think in picking up his fourth-year option, the Rockets believe they have yet to press the right buttons with him.
Maybe Motiejunas is one of those "needs a change of scenery" guys, destined for a career rebirth in Phoenix in the year 2020. But while he's here, he needs to find a way to adjust to his sort-of-unfair surroundings. He needs to play better defensively, especially in help situations. He HAS to shoot the ball better from the outside or else he's a stretch four who pulls a hammy during the stretch. Donuts' instincts have always led him away from the basket instead of towards it -- we need to find out this season if that has changed significantly. He'll always show flashes, but he needs to mold them into a more consistent output.
Thankfully, the one number that did increase from his rookie season was in the rebounding department, where he pulled in 3.6 per game, up from 2.1. It's a noticeable increase to the point where it would be reasonable for him to jump to 5.0 this year if he can put it all together. 5 rebounds a game from a guy behind Terrence Jones, next to Dwight Howard? Yes, or else why is he here? To shoot 25 percent from deep?
The task at hand for D-Mo is relatively simple: Find ways to impact the game without being force-fed the ball. Get put-back rebounds. Force turnovers. Make your quick catch-and-shoots. That's the building block for more playing time, it always has been. Forcing fouls on opposing bigs would also help, though that's never been a big D-Mo strength either.
Above all else, Motiejunas needs to prove why he should still belong. What makes him unique on this roster, worth inserting in a game because you'll suddenly get *this* element on the floor? At the moment, I know many ways in which he could make a positive, unique impact. We just need to see it, in however many minutes he's given to show it.