The keys to the Houston Rockets’ season: #3 – the emergence of Donatas Motiejunas


If Donatas Motiejunas were to have entered this summer’s NBA draft, he undoubtedly would have been a top-5 pick.  He’s a legit 7 feet, with above average defensive ability, one of the best arsenals of post-up moves in the league, and passable 3-point range (37% overall from deep).  He finally started putting it all together last season before a back injury sidelined him for the playoffs.  Curiously, his value remains underrated even among some factions of Rockets fans.

Motiejunas is the third most important key to the Rockets’ season because the options behind him have thinned, and the Houston roster really has no other holes.  That’s an amazing point to consider: the Rockets now have star power at every other spot but power forward.  (Trevor Ariza can really be considered a star among peers who play a similar role as stretch defensive wings).

Josh Smith is now a Clipper, and it will be some time before Montrezl Harrell is ready to join the regular rotation.  That leaves just the mercurial Terrence Jones and Motiejunas to man the ‘4’ in a West overflowing with talent at the position.  What does Houston need from D-Mo this year for a repeat trip to the Final Four?

First, of course, he’ll need to come back from back surgery and return to full strength.  But assuming he’s physically sound, there really isn’t much improvement Motiejunas needs to make from last season to help this Houston team.  He was sound defensively all year, even at the rim, where he ranked at one point amongst the league’s top protectors, even despite his vertical limitations.  And of course, as aforementioned, Motiejunas was one of basketball’s most dependable post-up scorers, with his assortment of tricks.  And if he can bring that 37% mark closer to 40, it’s a complete game-changer, both for Motiejunas’ financial future, and for the dynamics of the Houston offense.

I envision Houston staggering D-Mo’s minutes to where he can feast on opposing backup big men as a featured option in the Houston offense, particularly in those critical minutes when James Harden sits.  He also proved very deft, surprisingly, at penetrating off the catch in the pick and roll, and then finding the open man on the perimeter.  There will be even more opportunities for sets of this sort with Ty Lawson picking up where Harden will leave off.

While Houston can make both Jones and Motiejunas restricted, both players stand to procure considerable raises.  Can Houston afford both players, or, more relevantly, do the Rockets have interest in tying up considerable amounts in two players at the same position?  If the Rockets opt for cap room, as they are expected to do, you can anticipate teams offering either player at least $10 million a year, especially with the cash that will be available this July.  I expect Jones to get dealt at some point before that.  Motiejunas is the better complement to Dwight Howard’s skillset, or even to Clint Capela’s if thinking longer term.

In the next installment, I’ll look at #2: the Dwight Howard maintenance plan

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

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The keys to the Houston Rockets’ season: #4 – the evolution of James Harden