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A Donatas Motiejunas Roundtable.

McGuire: As Rahat put it after Monday’s game against Brooklyn:

Motiejunas’s development is up there with “Harden playing defense and having an actual mid-range game” as one of the best positive surprises of this season, and serves as yet another example of how I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was extremely pessimistic about Motiejunas at the start of this season. I was not convinced he could stop fouling, and I do not believe that a true post game, Motiejunas’s greatest strength, is that important a weapon in a NBA which has gone away from it.

Well, Motiejunas has certainly proven me wrong in a post game’s value, and he grabbed consecutive double-doubles against the Nets and Jazz for what Bill Worrell said was the first time in his career. He already has more Win Shares at this point in the season than he accumulated in his previous two years combined.

So, what do you think about Motiejunas’s development and the role which he should play on this team? We are not looking at a future star, after all – or are we?

Walker: Not to turn down the music too much, but he’s almost certainly not a future star. That’s not an insult, just boring old reality. He’s a wonderful fit with this particular Rockets team, and he’s growing into an excellent role player, but stars are few and far between. It’s still possible, I suppose, that he’s the next Paul Millsap, but Millsap isn’t even really a star. He doesn’t need to be, anyway. If he keeps playing like this, D-Mo’s gonna stay in the starting lineup, help with a deep playoff run and get paid some serious paper pretty soon.

Huq: Why is he not a future star?  WHY!?!  He is a 24-year-old 7 footer with one of the best post arsenals in the league, ability to pass off the dribble (sort of), while providing statistically way-above-average defense and rim protection.  If I were still in Houston and attending games, I would make it my personal mission to get it through to him to rebuild his shooting form this summer.  If he added the range he was initially touted for, he would be absolutely deadly.  But back to the question.  What young big is doing what he is doing right now….for a winning team, nonetheless.  Motiejunas saved the Houston season!

Dover: Remember last night during the Brooklyn telecast when they put up a list of the point guards in the Western Conference? Let’s do the same thing with Power Forwards because it’s almost as daunting. Aldridge, Randolph, Nowitzki, Griffin, Duncan, Davis, Ibaka. Add Draymond Green to that list and Motiejunas is probably the 9th best starting power forward in the conference (give or take Derrick Favors and/or Kenneth Faried). Not a bad starting point, and certainly much better than where he was at the beginning of the season, but there’s still a long way to go before he’s worthy of top billing like some of those others.

Motiejunas is never going to be higher than third banana for this team. That’s fine – your third best player is still really important if you want to perform at championship level. But if he wants to be a ‘star’ (I really hate using that term but that’s a discussion for another time) it’s not going to happen while he has to grab the occasional sliver of limelight from behind Howard and Harden. For now I feel like we should embrace the role he’s currently in – providing some offensive punch from the post when required and otherwise just filling in the gaps as needed.

McGuire: I may or may not have made that star comment just to watch Rahat react.

Richard: Man this is the second time Paul does a roundtable on my posting day. I demand a gift basket in return. At this point, I think everyone agrees that Dwight Howard is not a particularly wonderful offensive option with his present usage. Since Harden is our first offensive option, and Harden driving and kicking to a shooter is our second offensive option, does that make DMo our third offensive option?

Could one of the unseen advantages of DMo be that he’s taking away possessions from Howard in the post? I mean, if we agree that Howard in the post is a big opportunity cost, then DMo in the post is addition by subtraction, along with whatever added value he has by himself. Another thing worth mentioning is that, if Howard is not awkwardly maneuvering the post, he’s free to roam the offensive boards. That has to be worth something.

McGuire: I prefer looking at things in terms of options as opposed to who is a star player or not, and I think Motiejunas is Houston’s best non-Harden option. That said, Motiejunas’s development does not mean the Rockets could use another shot creator. One reason why I remain doubtful of the role of the traditional big man post-player is because it’s just harder to get players like that the ball in today’s NBA. Motiejunas’s post skills do nothing to diminish that – who can forget what a pain it was to watch the Rockets trying to get Yao Ming the ball? (Dear God, Yao hasn’t played relevant basketball in over half a decade now).

Still, how does our frontcourt rotation look going forward, especially when Terrence Jones finally returns? I was probably the most nervous out of us about signing Smith, and there are plenty of things I still don’t like about his play. His passing reminds me of Terrence Williams in “it works really well when you don’t turn the ball over”. His shooting is problematic not just in the shot itself, but because Smith hangs around the perimeter way too much in general. But he has had been alright despite everything, and for once this team might actually have the luxury of depth.

Huq: Forrest, that was really weird when they put Beverley among those other point guards.  Oh, also…

Carry on.

Walker: Donatas is for sure taking away possessions from Howard in the post, and it’s definitely an advantage, but I don’t think it’s unseen. That’s like boon number one that he’s offering, number two being to keep Josh Smith on the bench. He’s in beast mode right now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stay in beast mode forever. This might be heresy to imply, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones gets that starting spot back. Motiejunas is a credit to the basketball powers of Lithuania for sure, but if we might recall, the Rockets (in an admittedly tiny sample size) ran roughshod over everyone with Jones in the lineup. Jones is still a fantastic fit next to Dwight, even if Donatas is establishing himself as another great fit. Having too many usable power forwards might end up (again, always) as Houston’s biggest roster issue going forward.

Felker:  As someone who always had an inflated opinion of Motiejunas, his development hasn’t been a huge shock.  I always hoped he’d develop into a Boris Diaw-type: a big man with good feet, passing skills and the ability to develop from long range.  Motiejunas used to play with “happy feet”, and you could tell his body was always too eager to make a play before his brain had digested the play in front of him (hence all the foul trouble and awkward floaters).  You hear it all the time with young guys, “the game is finally starting to slow down” for D-Mo.

I think his role going forward all comes down to Terrence Jones; when will he be back and how long will it take for him to get into the swing of things (I don’t know how similar Jones’ injury is to Carson Palmer’s shoulder troubles, but it seems like the nerve could just “wake up” one of these days).  I certainly lean towards Walker’s point that Jones should get his starting spot once he’s 100%.  A starting five with James Harden in the lineup doesn’t need much help scoring, and I actually like a second unit with D-Mo’s and J-Smoove’s passing combined with Corey Brewer as a run-and-gun bench brigade that can also defend.  Hypothetically, Motiejunas could be the backup-5 and still close out games as the crunchtime power forward.

I know you guys like him taking a few possessions away from Dwight, but doesn’t D-Mo posting up with the starters mean Harden is standing 25 feet from the basket without the ball?  Wouldn’t the entire team be better served if Motiejunas was the Sixth Man and the focal point of the second unit while the stars catch wind?

Li: We all say “second unit” like basketball coaches have hockey lines. Obviously that’s not the case. Currently James Harden averages over 36 MPG. Any player coming off the bench has, at most, 12 MPG without Harden, during which he can lead the second unit. And if we plan on playing both DMo and Harden together during crunch time, that 12 MPG is, at most, 7 MPG. Basically, people are going to be playing with James Harden. And that’s a good thing!

I’m perfectly OK with DMo taking possessions away from Harden. If he didn’t, Howard would be. And as good as Harden is, the Rockets aren’t going to get very far as a one man team. The idea of a valuable bench player, those 6th men of the year types, is actually misleading because those types (Manu, JR Smith when he had a pulse, Harden himself on the Thunder) actually play ~30 MPG, most of it is spent with the starters. If DMo does come off the bench, he better have that type of playing time, or else I just give up.

Felker: The point of my second unit comment wasn’t to suggest he’d be running a large portion of the games’ minutes as the focal point, but more an idea that for those 12 minutes when Harden isn’t on the floor could maximize whatever potential D-Mo has as a shot creator for the rest of the offense.

It seems we all agree that Motiejunas is the Rockets’ second best offensive option after Harden’s multifaceted attack, so, as the Spurs have always done with Tony Parker and Manu, why not stack his minutes so that he can carry the load while Beard sits?  He should definitely be playing 30 minutes a game, but when he logs those 30 can really change his impact.  Bill Simmons said recently in a podcast with Zack Lowe (they were discussing the possibility of the Grizzlies trading Kosta Koufas) that you can’t win a game in the 12-13 minutes that your starters are off the floor, but you can lose it.  The bench has a lot of key pieces, but none that can create their own shot consistently.

I really like a lineup with D-Mo, Smoove, Papa, Brewer and Guard X against any bench unit in the NBA, save for the Bulls.  It allows D-Mo all the touches he needs to do his thing (against mostly-backups no less), and has plenty of perimeter defense to help protect the rim sans Dwight.

View this discussion from the forum.

About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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