The Rockets have had seven different power forwards on their roster this season. At last month’s trading deadline, they took a bit of a risk and moved the two men who had manned the position for most of the season – Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris – in separate deals.
That shuffling brought back Thomas Robinson in a deal that most believed was a fleecing of the Sacramento Kings, who gave up on the struggling fifth overall pick in last year’s draft way too early and did so simply to save a couple million dollars.
But the deals left the Rockets without an established power forward. Second-year man Greg Smith, with 53 games under his NBA belt, was their most experienced 4-man.
All season, the Rockets had rookie power forwards Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas riding the D-League elevator, sending them down to Rio Grande Valley and calling them back up on a seemingly weekly basis.
Meanwhile, Rockets management finally worked out an arrangement with Royce White, yet another rookie power forward whose initial unwavering stance on the treatment of his anxiety disorder and accompanying criticism of the team created quite a scene.
When the dust settled shortly after deadline, it appeared Houston’s best option at power forward was small forward Chandler Parsons. With Parsons and his rangy all-around game at the 4-spot, the Rockets played Carlos Delfino at small forward in a 4-out, 1-in scheme with center Omer Asik hanging around the rim and guards James Harden and Jeremy Lin creating for themselves and teammates from the perimeter.
At the same time, however, they also began bringing Motiejunas off the bench, and the Lithuania native has become a key contributor in Houston’s postseason push. In six games, he gone from sub to starter and averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.7 minutes while shooting 54 percent from the field.
Motiejunas was a 2011 first-round pick of Minnesota acquired later that day by Houston GM Daryl Morey, who also landed Morris and Parsons with his selections that year. The 7-foot lefthander spent another season in Europe before joining the Rockets for this season.
Houston coach Kevin McHale dubbed him “D-Mo” because he had trouble saying his name. But McHale didn’t have to use that nickname very often as Motiejunas played just 58 minutes in the team’s first 54 games. He spent most of the season collecting DNPs but did average nearly 21 points on 52 percent shooting in seven games with Rio Grande Valley.
By starting Motiejunas, the Rockets can play Parsons and Delfino at their natural positions. Robinson has found a rhythm recently, allowing McHale to go with a spread offense or a more conventional two-big set with Robinson alongside Asik.
Will it be enough for Houston to end its four-year playoff drought? Or will the Rockets endure a fifth straight season of missing the playoffs despite finishing above .500? Harden and Parsons likely will have more of a say in that than Motiejunas.
However, Morey seems to have found another young gem in his effort to rebuild the Rockets.
On to the rankings.