Donatas Motiejunas was following the league’s trend into the indispensable stretch four. Injuries have been a major setback. Now, what?
The last two seasons of Houston Rockets power forward Donatas Motiejunas‘ career followed a path that was eerily similar to his team.
The 2014-15 Western Conference Finals run produced great results and provided hope for the future, but a horrific 2015-16 season which saw head coach Kevin Mchale fired after 11 games was an unexpected catastrophe that derailed high expectations and caused a shakeup.
We’ll begin at the beginning. Well, not the beginning, but how about when Stephen Curry began ruining the league by making it more fun is that okay? Good.
The league was in small ball bliss two seasons ago as they gushed over the Golden State Warriors and new head coach Steve Kerr. Stretch fours (the big guy who can shoot) were all the rage, and it looked like Motiejunas was capable of being that guy for the Rockets.
Despite struggling his first two seasons from downtown, in 2014-15 the 7-footer nailed 36.8% of his threes and had an effective field goal percentage (stat that adjusts for the fact that threes are 50% more valuable than twos) of 54.9% on catch and shoot opportunities (via NBA.com).
Where he made his bones though was in the post. Although Dwight Howard was obviously fed more with his back to the basket, Motiejunas was making a name for himself as a complete offensive player.
Per NBA.com, he averaged 6.0 post touches per game and 4.5 points per game with his back to the basket. That accounted for 37.5% of his season scoring average.
On March 25, 2015, Motiejunas dropped 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 37 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans. He stepped up in the clutch along with teammates James Harden and Trevor Ariza. The trio scored 57 of the Rockets final 68 points to the lead their team to a comeback win, per ESPN.com. It was the last game Motiejunas would play during the 2014-15 season.
He wouldn’t suit up again until Dec. 5.
Back issues have sabotaged the promising career of a former first round pick. Those same back issues are the reason why he’s the only remaining restricted free agent left unsigned. It didn’t help that when Houston tried to trade him this season, the Pistons went back on the deal after the 25-year-old failed a physical. Due to you guessed it, his damn back.
All that combined with a miserable 2015-16 campaign in which he played in just 37 games, and it’s no surprise the Rockets are reluctant to make an offer. According to his agent, the man affectionately nicknamed D-Mo by Rockets fans will make a decision by Oct. 1.
It’s pretty strange for an agent to by all accounts make a public ultimatum to a team, but nothing about this situation is normal. The Rockets are so afraid of Motiejunas’ back that they won’t commit to him long-term. They already spent $80 million on power forward Ryan Anderson, so another large investment on the same position is unlikely.
The payday Motiejunas was hoping for when the offseason started isn’t happening. He’s basically in a stalemate right now. Houston is banking on the fact that he will cave and take a one-year deal to try and prove himself for more money next summer. That could be the smart play.
Once again his career will mirror the Rockets. This time, it isn’t the results though it’s the predictions. Most people agree that 2014-15 was a fluke for both parties and they are closer to the results of what happened last season. It will be a tough task proving everyone wrong.
Will we ever see the dude who hung 20 and eight on the Pelicans and helped rally his team to a win again? That’s the question we all hope Montiejunas is healthy enough to answer this season.
He turns 26 on Sept. 20, so the big man is still in his prime. There’s still time for him to revert to his 2014-15 form and possibly improve.