Jonathan GivonyDonatas Motiejunas
has found his groove.
After somewhat surprisingly electing not to enter his name in the 2010 NBA draft, Motiejunas has taken Italy by storm in his second season with Benetton Treviso. He currently ranks as the 2nd best per-minute scorer
in the Italian Lega A, and is doing so in spectacularly efficient fashion, shooting 66% from 2-point range and 46% from behind the arc.
While we're only seven games into the season and those numbers will surely come down to earth, it's not a stretch to say that the 7-foot Lithuanian has blossomed into one of the best scoring big men in all of European basketball at the tender age of 20, and likely the most skilled power forward/center in the draft. Offensively, it's getting easier and easier to see where the comparisons with Pau Gasol
are coming from.
Two things jump out at you immediately when comparing Motiejunas with how he looked last season: his comfort level offensively and improved body. He's added a solid 10-15 pounds of good weight to his frame over the summer, and is playing with as much confidence as we've seen since we first laid eyes on him when he was only 15-years old.
Motiejunas' improved frame has helped him considerably when it comes to scoring inside the paint, as he's doing a much better job of establishing post-position, and is in turn attempting much higher percentage shots and getting to the free throw line at an outstanding rate.
He's still the same incredibly skilled big man we've always known, with his terrific hands, touch and footwork, but now he's added a degree of physicality that compliments his finesse game quite well.
Motiejunas has been responsible for some extremely impressive possessions inside the paint this season, creating his own shot with a wide array of fakes and spins, using the glass beautifully, finishing with either hand, and sometimes even throwing in some swooping sky-hooks running across the lane for good measure.
He looks about as comfortable and natural as a big man can with his back to the basket, but is also fast enough in the open court that he'll get himself at least one or two easy baskets a game just by beating his man down the floor.
Another area where Motiejunas' has made notable strides is perimeter shooting. Whereas last season he converted just 21 of 58, or 36% of his overall jump-shot attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology, this year he's doing much better, knocking down 6/13 of his 3-point attempts in seven Italian league games thus far. He's being utilized much more frequently in pick and pop situations, and is showing absolutely no hesitation whatsoever when left open on the perimeter, showing a quick release and excellent range.
Facing the basket, he still has the ability to put the ball down and beat opposing big men with a quick first step and nifty handles, even being able to change directions with the ball and execute sharp pivot moves, which you rarely see from a player this size. At times you'll see him grab a rebound and ignite the fast break himself, racing up the floor with the ball with the utmost confidence in his ball-handling ability.
He's an easy player for a coach to utilize offensively, since he can hurt opponents in so many different ways with his terrific versatility.
Motiejunas unfortunately still struggles with the two very important areas that were pinpointed early on in his career as being major weaknesses: defense and rebounding. His defensive rebounding numbers have actually gotten worse this season, now down to a paltry 3.2 per-40 minutes, which ranks him dead last in the entire Italian league amongst both power forwards
While Motiejunas' average efforts boxing out and lackluster hustle could get better with age and coaching, he just doesn't have very good instincts for rebounding, making it tough to see just how much he can improve down the road in this area. He doesn't play with very much intensity, looking lackadaisical in his approach, rarely going out of his area for rebounds, and often going after loose balls with one hand. It's here where the Andrea Bargnani
comparisons appear the most accurate.
Defensively, we see much of the same. It's not a matter of ability Motiejunas' physical tools and timing are outstanding you'll occasionally see him make a spectacular block or hedge a pick and roll wonderfully, shutting down the entire play. Rather, it seems to be a question of passion, intensity, and his overall mentality.
He doesn't play with very much emotion on this end of the floor, not looking willing to sacrifice his body for the sake of his team and showing a distinct lack of purpose. He gets posted up frequently for example, not offering enough resistance to opponents trying to back him down, and not really looking overly concerned when inferior opponents score against him. He also doesn't seem to possess very good fundamentals on this end, as you often see him getting out of his stance way too quickly and he tends to get lost off the ball.
Motiejunas' body language leaves something to be desired too. He gets down on himself easily and still shows some signs of the immaturity that plagued him earlier in his career, complaining excessively and letting little occurrences on the floor throw him off his entire game. There have been some concerns earlier in his career that he may be a little fragile mentally, and these things don't do much to deter those thoughts.
Like many other European draft prospects, expectations and situation will likely play a huge role in how his NBA career pans out. If Motiejunas gets picked too high (like Milicic and Bargnani clearly were) and is put under a great deal of pressure and scrutiny, he may struggle in the early going. The type of coach that is working with him will also be keyhe'll likely need some freedom to operate offensively, and a patient, supportive approach to his struggles defensively and on the glass.
Players with Motiejunas' combination of size, athleticism and skill-level don't emerge that often, but he's no sure bet to pan out. We'll be keeping track of him for the rest of the season to see how he continues to progress.