NBA Draft 2011: Donatas Motiejunas Is Worth the Gamble
There is a precedent when it comes to drafting European talent into the NBA: you never know what you might get.
There is as much chance as selecting a gem like Dirk Nowitzki as there is selecting a dud like Darko Milicic. The fact is, evaluating European talent is extremely difficult—you are rarely afforded the opportunity to see how they play against top-level competition over a season.
The Euro League is good—and improving—but unfortunately it's not a scratch on the college system in America. There appears to be an influx of foreign talent heading to the NBA in this year's draft, including Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely and Jonas Valaciunas.
Most intriguing of all these prospects however, is the seven-foot Lithuanian Donatas Montiejunas. I was fortunate enough to see a game in Italy where Donatas outplayed his defender, often times effortlessly beating him with superior post-play, as well as the unusual ability for a big man to dribble down the floor and beat his defender on the fast-break.
Unlike many of the seven-footers that are in the NBA currently, Montiejunas can shoot the three ball with apparent ease and passes extremely well. He is probably the most versatile player in the draft, and in the game I witnessed he showed to be solid with both hands in the post, and just as comfortable with his back to the basket as he was on the perimeter.
Not unlike many European prospects drafted in the previous decade, however, Donatas suffers from poor rebounding and a lack of strength. He is indeed aggressive in his approach to offense, but he rarely showed a great deal of intensity.
What Donatas brings to the table though is that of a very unique player, someone who when committed can change the dynamic of a game in a single play. His stats in the Italian league are nothing short of outstanding; he shot 66 percent in the paint and 46 percent from deep—incredible numbers for such a young player.
His potential could see him reach a Pau Gasol-like level, a solid scorer and eventually a good rebounder. Not to mention his three-point stroke that will stretch defenses, as well as strong technical prowess, which will benefit him in the months that he continues to build strength.
He looks to be a lock for the lottery, with a worst-case scenario being that he tumbles a few spots out of it. I'd look for the Rockets to pick him up, hoping that in time he will pick up some pointers from Luis Scola and Yao Ming (if they retain him) in his first season.
Ultimately, it all depends on whether Montiejunas has the desire to add weight to his frame, and to work on the weaknesses he has in the rebounding areas. Will he adapt to the American game?
One must question with all his skills and versatility; he might not have to.
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