clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Donatas Motiejunas hopes to seize the wide open power forward slot

New, comments

It's been a long, strange trip for D-Mo, but he has an opportunity in front of him to make sure that it's all in the past.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Seems like we've been over this one before, no? Save one, five-season interlude when Luis Scola's Samson-like powers were bounding down the Toyota Center hardwood, the Rockets have been in need of a power forward since the days of Otis Thorpe then Charles Barkley in the '90s.

This was thought to be the season when one member of the young Rockets' front court stepped up and laid claim to the team's long-term solution at the position, but it just hasn't worked out that way.

Terrence Jones was figured by most league circles (though not all at TDS) as the highest-upside play of a crowded group, but he's struggled and actually regressed as the season's gone on. Now he can barely get on the court.

Montrezl Harrell has shown flashes of the type of hustle and hard-nosed attitude the Rockets are looking for at the position, but whether it's through a failure of coaching or Harrell's inability to space the floor while he's on it — a whopping 66.2 percent of all his shots come within 3 feet of the basket, higher than Dwight Howard in any season of his career — Harrell just hasn't been able to see significant minutes.

Clint Capela's spent his fair share of time at the slot starting next to Howard, and while the duo's rim protection and rebounding has made them an effective combination in spurts, Capela also fails in the spacing department. With an offensive system solely predicated on creating an open floor for James Harden to operate, running the Towers together for more than limited minutes was cramping the style of the team's most important player.

Daryl Morey even traded for Josh Smith in the hopes Smith could once again snag lightning in a bottle by complementing this group with his willingness to pass. Although it's safe to say with Smith's minutes dwindling as fast as his shooting percentage, this was mostly a failed Hail Mary.

Which brings us to the man many figured for the best fit in that spot all along, Donatas Motiejunas. D-Mo's saga of back injuries and trades that never were needs no further mention here, but now that he's back on the floor and back with the Rockets, the fates have graced him with a somewhat serendipitous opportunity to seize the power forward position and never let it go.

He played his first game in 2016 just last week in a loss to the Spurs, and with the team's power forward situation still a mess, and the squad as a whole repeatedly cursed by slow starts, coach J.B. Bickerstaff quickly elevated him to the starting lineup Wednesday against the Pelicans, only D-Mo's second start of the season.

Motiejunas played 22 minutes, the team responded with a win, and Bickerstaff told the Houston Chronicle:

"Just thought we needed a change in the group. We looked at that first lineup and we looked at the quarters, how we started first quarters, and we just felt like we needed a little more lively body to go in that group. Also, with Jason (Terry) being the backup point guard, playing Josh with him as another guy who can handle the ball was a good decision for us too. Looking to balance our lineup out a little bit, and looking to see if we can get off to better starts."

D-Mo didn't light up the box score, scoring just 7 points with 3 rebounds and 2 assists, but his understanding of the nuances on offense was something greatly missed by his teammates and appreciated upon it's return. James Harden told the Chron:

"D-Mo just has a really good feel for the game. It's not something that you can teach. It was tough not having him on the court to have another big that could pass the ball. He just knows how to play the game well. We've got to get comfortable. We have to get his rhythm on the court. Hopefully, he'll get his groove back."

And while the season is dwindling away fast and the time to get "comfortable" is running exceedingly short, Motiejunas does have another opportunity, and that's to use the remaining 21 games as an audition of sorts with the uncertainty of restricted free agency looming in the offseason. D-Mo says he feels up to the challenge:

"I'm feeling pretty good. My rhythm is pretty good. It's just a matter of time before I start showing it. Right now, I was out of basketball for a week and half, two weeks. At that time (December), I was out of basketball for seven months. That's a big difference. I didn't have any practice. I went straight to the games. That was really tough. This is easier.

"I'm still missing some plays. I think's it going to come. It's not something that I'm frustrated about... my goal is to help this team win as many games as possible."

Fate often has a funny way of working out. If Donuts can continue his return to form over these last weeks of the season and stay healthy moving forward, it is still possible that the Rockets' power forward of the future is the one that's already starting. Stay tuned.