The Rockets’ victory over the Lakers last night was more than just another notch in the win column. More than getting them to a .500 record. It was about Donatas Motiejunas showing a glimpse of why the Rockets have so sorely missed him so far this season.
Since returning Dec. 8, he has only played around eight minutes per game. But the Rockets put their faith in the Lithuanian forward and played him for a season-high 15 minutes yesterday in the Toyota Center. He shined, going 4-4 from the field and scoring 12 points, including his first three-pointer. The Rockets are looking forward to seeing more that resembles his breakout play from last season.
Prior to his back injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the 2014-2015 season and playoffs, Motiejunas played 71 games and proved how integral he was to the Rockets’ winning ways. He averaged 12 points per game and saw nearly 29 minutes of playing time, and it is how he scored his points that made him so valuable.
Motiejunas may not be able to put up monster dunks and SportsCenter worthy alley-oops like Dwight Howard, but he possesses a great shooting touch, agility and finesse around the basket that Howard lacks. D-Mo took 46 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet and made over 50 percent of them, while Howard took 36 percent of his shots from the same range and made only 37 percent of them.
And let’s not forget that Howard is nearing the end of his prime at the age of 30. D-Mo, on the other hand is only 25 years old and is now in the third year of his young career, having much more room for growth than Howard.
I’m not saying that D-Mo should replace Howard, no.But it’s an absolute fact that they complement each other very well when playing together. As head coach J.B. Bickerstaff continues to ramp up Motiejunas' minutes, it will be interesting to see what role the seven-footer will play on the Rockets.
This year’s starter and role player lineup is much different than last season’s. Now Clint Capela is starting, relegating Terrence Jones to the bench, and Howard’s minutes are limited to further prevent injuries. Nothing is set in stone, though, especially now that a player of Motiejunas’ caliber has suited up.
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is still tinkering with the lineup to make one that spells a consistent, winning formula. Motiejunas’s role depends on how much he shines on the court. But it also depends on how well Capela and Jones perform, and the load of minutes that Howard can carry. Motiejunas is still shaking off some of the rust, but I predict he will eventually see 25-30 minutes of playing time, similar to the minutes he logged last season. And yes, I predict that D-Mo will take the starting power forward role, supplanting Clint Capela. Playing with Howard and Capela as starters for the duration of the season feels redundant. Capela’s game is similar to Howard’s in that there’s loads of power and dominance, but not enough much needed mid-range and post finesse. Jones’ play is far too erratic to mean that he will be anything but a great role player off the bench.
Regardless of the role that Motiejunas ends up playing, he will be a key contributor in the Rockets success this season. So the Rockets' coaching staff, front office and especially the fans can breathe a deep sigh of relief that Donuts has returned.