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D-League: Motiejunas Shows NBA-Ready Skills
Posted By Yannis Koutroupis On November 25, 2012 @ 9:00 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
The 2012-13 NBDL regular season kicked off this past weekend and among the main attractions was Rio Grande Valley Vipers center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas, who is on assignment from the Houston Rockets along with fellow rookie Scott Machado, was drafted 20th overall in 2011 and stayed overseas last season before eventually joining the Rockets this summer.
Despite playing just five minutes of regular season action with the Rockets before joining the Vipers, Motiejunas looked anything but rusty or out of shape. In fact, he impressed so much that the consensus in Rio Grande was that he’d be on his way back to Houston after his strong showing in back-to-back games against the Bakersfield Jam.
In the opener, a 115-113 loss to the Jam, Motiejunas recorded a game-high 31 points to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. He simply did it all offensively, knocking down jump shots, aggressively attacking the rim, running the floor hard in transition for fast break points and showing the ability to finish with either hand.
In the second game, a 113-102 Vipers victory, Motiejunas took a back seat to Jeff Adrien offensively. The two were previously teammates in Italy and clearly had a high level of chemistry with one another. While Adrien poured in a game-high 29 points, Motiejunas contributed a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Rockets are already shorthanded at the center position with Cole Aldrich bothered by a sprained ankle. Even if Aldrich wasn’t hurt, though, Motiejunas backed up his talk of being unstoppable at the D-League level by being exactly that. If only one assessment could be made from his averages of 24 points, eight rebounds and three assists through two games, it’s that the 22-year-old definitely holds the potential to help the Rockets.
Motiejunas fits in perfectly with the Rockets’ up-tempo attack that is being led by explosive guards Jeremy Lin and James Harden. He possesses the kind of speed and quickness needed to keep up with the team’s style of play. He can also help keep the offense spaced in the halfcourt with his solid jump shot and overall comfort level on the perimeter.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who was in attendance for Motiejunas’ debut and laid out a clear set of expectations he has for him in an interview with HOOPSWORLD, now has a difficult decision on his hands. Does he call Motiejunas back up because he impressed so much offensively or does he let him stay down in RGV where he’s getting 35+ minutes a night to continue to improve on the defensive end, where the Rockets would like to see him improve? Both options offer plenty of upside.
In an era of basketball where young, talented big men come at a premium, the Rockets have to feel really hopeful over what they have in Motiejunas. He’s stood out in the Euroleague, Las Vegas Summer League and now the D-League. The NBA appears to be next.
Damion James Disappointed In Debut: Bakersfield Jam forward Damion James is one of the top-ranked prospects in the D-League this season. He was a first-round pick just two years ago and was recently one of the final cuts of the Atlanta Hawks. Most expect James’ stint in the D-League to be short, but he struggled in his first two games and fell drastically short of the expectations he has set for himself.
“Not like I should at all,” James said when assessing his play to HOOPSWORLD. “Not like I should at all, man. I’m disappointed in myself, but it’s not about me, it’s about this team. I have to do better for this team to win. I just have to pick it up to a whole other level. I can take it to a whole other level. I don’t know why I just wasn’t on today. I played okay yesterday and we got the win. I didn’t play good today and we lost and I’m not a happy camper about that.
“Literally rebounding, defense, open shots, penetration, turnovers, assists, I have to do better in everything. I can do all those things and I have to do those things to help this team win and be that guy they can rely on every night. Even if my shot isn’t falling, [I have] to bring offense rebounds, defensive rebounds and defense.”
James averaged 15 points and eight rebounds during the opening weekend. While that’s respectable, it’s the 31 percent shooting from the field, 14 percent from distance and six total turnovers that serve as the source of his frustration.
“Sometimes you just have to leave it in God’s hands,” James said. “I just have to do what I do every day and, if I do that, I’ll be right back where I need to be. These two games weren’t my best performances, but one thing I’ve learned is that there’s always another day. I have to go back at it tomorrow. We’ll get back to Bakersfield, get ready to take off and do a great job.”
One thing that James made clear was that his struggles were on him and not an indication that the fit on the Jam isn’t right.
“It’s a great fit,” James said. “I have a great coach. He allows each and every one of us to play to our strengths. I have to take advantage of that as well. I have to get to the basket more and rebound more. There are a lot of things I have to do better. I’m in a great position. The coach loves me, I love the coach, he loves this team. We have a pretty good team as well. We just have to bring it every day.
“I got a great cast, great supporting cast. Those guys are great. It’s just tough after a loss. You just gotta pick it up, man. There’s no other way to say it. I just have to pick it up, do what I have to do to help this team. Today, I didn’t do that. I’m disappointed in myself, it’s hard for me to stay focused right now. I just have to go home, pray about it and bring it next game.”
James and the Jam will have a chance to bounce back on Dec. 3 and 4 when they host Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.
D-League Games Available on YouTube
The D-League and YouTube recently announced a partnership to air over 350 regular season games live on the web and make them available for on demand viewing afterwards. Below you can view the doubleheader between the Vipers and Jam from this weekend. Click here to go to the official D-League YouTube channel, where you can find all live and previous games.
Worth Noting Across The League: There were seven contests in all on opening weekend. Here’s a look at who stood out.
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