Donatas Motiejunas is 21 years old, but he has the confidence of a veteran. That confidence likely came from leading his Polish League team, Prokom Gdynia, to a ninth consecutive title.
"If you're scared of wolves, don't go into the woods."
The Lithuanian proverb unmistakably echoing his confidence.
Standing at 7-feet tall, his abilities and athleticism remind me of Andrea Bargnani. D-Mo, as he is known in Houston, has many enviable traits. Despite his confidence he still needs to improve in some areas to be competitive in the NBA.
“The work ethic is the one thing you don’t have to worry about,” Karnisovas said. “I think it’s the key for him. He’s very excited right now, and coaches are excited to have a player that wants to be in the gym all the time. I think it’s his strength.”
No matter how talented a player is, that's the type of dedication that you want from your players. Motiejunas had a sore back and had missed three practices; he didn't hide his feelings.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t practice for a couple days,” Motiejunas said. “All the coaches and players could see in my face I was [angry.] There were a lot of guys working hard in practice. My goal was to come here and just show I can play much better than all of them.”
Although Motiejunas exudes confidence and cool during his press interview, coach Kevin McHale had a slightly different perspective on Motiejunas' first early steps.
"Motiejunas needs to play. It's really a shame that his back has been bothering him. He's got to play a lot [Wednesday] and the next day because … he's a high-energy guy who's prone to playing kind of fast. [If] he gets all this energy that first game in Vegas, those guys in the ninth row might have broken noses. He might throw that ball all over the place. He needs to play to get some of that out of him right now. I hope [Wednesday] he can get a couple good practices."
During the Summer League, Motiejunas did indeed show a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He averaged 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. That stat line is hampered by a lackluster game against Washington where he went 0-5 from the field and only managed to convert one free throw.
His other games were more befitting an athlete of his confidence. During his opening game against Toronto, he scored 25 points on 11-13 shooting, including 2-2 on three point attempts, and managed nine rebounds. In his final Summer League game against Portland, he scored 20 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which were offensive boards.
Despite a disappointing year in 2011 at Benetton Treviso, an Italian Serie A League team, he was selected 20th in the 2011 NBA draft.
"The one year before I didn't have a good year. I got drafted by Houston and it was like, 'We will see how you are.' They believe [in] me; the pressure was on me, and I [went] to Poland and to the Euroleague team and I tried to give my best. I had a great coach [Tomas Pacesas] who let me play on the best level a lot of minutes, and I show for everyone that … when I play my best game no one can stop me."
It appears at the moment that Houston has a player of great possibilities, someone who can play both the power forward position or backup for Omer Asik at center.
Motiejunas is a lefty with offensive potential; he can shoot the three, and his quick first step allows him to get past most defenders. He runs the floor very well and his speed means he can be a problem for opposing teams. He plays the pick-and-roll smoothly, combine him with Jeremy Lin and he should get some easy buckets.
At only 225 pounds, some might consider him underweight and he will often be criticized for not being tough enough. However, during the past year he has added some weight to his frame. Now he'll need to add more strength if he's to fully answer his critics.
In prior years, Motiejunas had rebounding stats that were not befitting a player of his size, but he's shown in the summer league that he can rebound—now it becomes a matter of consistency.
Perhaps his biggest criticism is his defense. In the past, he has appeared hesitant, almost uninterested in playing defense; he'll have to defend the post often in the NBA, and unless he improves, he may end up being punished.
Before arriving in Houston, Motiejunas showed contentedness at just being better than most players around him. He didn't go the extra mile to dominate his opponents. In the NBA, that will change, the players he'll face will be much better; he'll have to improve just to be at the same level.
The Rockets' front office hopes that as his competition improves, his enthusiasm to better himself as a player continues as well.