Ever since the success of foreign players such as Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki, teams have been more willing to gamble on drafting foreign players. Drafting foreign players is always a risk, as knowledge and scouting of the player is limited, and you never know how that player’s game will translate over to the NBA.For every Nowitzki, you have a handful of Darko Milicic.
Enter Donatas Motiejunas.
The 7-foot Lithunian center was a draft day acquisition after the Rockets acquired his draft rights in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Motiejunas showed tons of potential with his offensive talent, combining deft post moves with a deadly 3-point stroke. The official NBA Draft website even compared him favorably to Nowitzki and Andrea Bargnani.
So far, he has resembled Bargnani more than Dirk.
Motiejunas has struggled to find regular minutes in Houston and has disappointed whenever he is given the opportunity to play. His game has not translated well to the NBA, and his startling disinterest on defense has pushed him back further in the roster lineups.
Motiejunas averaged 15.4 minutes per game for 62 games last season, but many of those minutes were a result of a lack of depth in the power forward position. His shooting touch has seemingly deserted him, as he only shot 25 percent from behind the arc and 44.3 percent overall. His points average decreased, even though he was averaging more minutes and games.
The offensive skill that once made him a highly regarded NBA prospect is no more, and without that, there is not much else Motiejunas that can contribute. Watching him play defense is like pulling teeth, as he slowly lumbers back on transition defense or when recovering from a pick-and-roll.
He has no interest whatsoever in playing defense, and a center who doesn’t play defense rarely gets minutes in the NBA (unless you’re an offensive powerhouse). For a 7-footer, he gets outrebounded far too easily, due to his lack of hustle and drive when it comes to cleaning up the glass.
His lowest point last season came when he requested for a trade near the trade deadline if he wouldn’t receive more playing time. He complained repeatedly about the lack of playing time, even questioning his future after their first round playoff exit at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. He claimed he gave the team his all, “giving up 150 percent” – whether that is the case is debatable.
Up until now, D-Mo is still a Rocket. The Rockets’ failure at acquiring another power forward leaves the door ajar for Motiejunas to live up to his potential. He was a central point of the offense during the Rockets’ Vegas Summer League run, and while the style of the offense won’t translate over to their NBA team, it showed that the front office was still willing to give the big man a chance.
Motiejunas is surely on his last chance with the team. The team has a $2.3 million team option after his contract expires at the end of 2014-15 season, and right now it seems unlikely that they will exercise it. D-Mo needs to show an improved effort on defense, much like James Harden. If he regains his scoring touch and develops some hustle on the defensive end, he might just beat out Terrence Jones for the starting spot. And there might be a future for him in the NBA just yet.
In the eternal words of Marshall Bruce Mathers III,
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow,
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo.