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Motiejunas dazzles, Robinson disappoints in respective debuts

To begin, it is probably unfair to describe Thomas Robinson’s performance last night as ‘disappointing.’  It was his first game wearing red, and after only, I believe, two practices.  There weren’t really expectations.  But if we’re being honest, he didn’t look good.

Robinson finished the game with a -18, collecting three fouls in his seven minutes (to go along with 2 points and 1 rebound.)  After he checked into the game, late in the first, the team’s lead all but evaporated.  He did not return in the second half.

What most struck me about Robinson was his height.  There’s no way he is 6’9 as listed.  When he first checked in, I caught myself wondering who the new small forward was.  I thought, “when did the Rockets sign Andre Iguodala?”

Of course, this was a mere observation – his height is immaterial as he has already proven a capable rebounder as evidenced by his adjusted rebounding production this season.

Robinson will get better, just through familiarity with the team, but for now, one struggles to see where he can fit.  Without a dependable jumpshot, his presence takes away a lot of what the Rockets like to run.

Motiejunas, on the other hand, dazzled, finishing with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in just 25 minutes of play.  Were it not for a few missed ‘gimmes’, the Lithuanian would have easily gone for 20.  I hesitate to say this, just because it’s so early, but I am fairly confident he will become an offensive star.  At this point, the only way I can see him failing to reach that expectation is if his defense/rebounding prove to be so egregiously horrendous that they keep him off the floor altogether.

He knocked down a 3, showed some nice hands around the basket, and drove in off the pump fake on several plays, on one occasion even spinning to the hoop.  However, the most impressive thing I’ve noted is how aggressively Motiejunas posts up.  There was one play which comes to mind where he beat his man down the court and pinned him right underneath the hoop, held his hands up, and caught the pass.  I believe he was then fouled.  This early, off-ball pindown is something very rarely seen in young players.  Recall that it took years until Rockets brass was able to program it into Yao’s muscle memory.

I talked to Motiejunas a bit after the game, asking him what he meant specifically when he said he “wanted to develop skills no one had developed in their life.”  The first word he mentioned was passing, interestingly.

I repeat: this is a 7 footer with aggression, postup skills, range on his jumper, and the ability to drive with either hand who, when asked about by his coach, has only been described as “so hard working that we had to find a way to get him on the court.”  How can he fail?  Motiejunas seems like a sure bet.

It’s going to be interesting to watch his development.  We know what he can do offensively.  But when it mattered most, he was on the bench with Delfino at the ’4′.  Again, the Rockets lost because they could not secure a rebound.  If Motiejunas is to become more than an offensive star, the 7 footer will need to gain his coach’s confidence that he can be dependable on the glass, at least enough to be kept in the game during critical moments.

A final note: While driving home from the Toyota Center, I heard a caller on the 790 postgame show make an interesting point.  He asked, to paraphrase, “where the hell is Terrence Jones?  They played this guy Thomas Robinson after just a few practices while Terrence Jones, who has been here all year, hasn’t even sniffed the court.”

I found this interesting.  In convention, it’s not too surprising that Robinson got the nod.  He was the fifth pick in the draft.  But since when has Kevin McHale cared about pedigree?  Had you asked me, I would have thought you’d see Terrence Jones before Robinson.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.