Last year, doing this draft series for MLive, one of the most commented on posts of the series was the profile I did about Donatas Motiejunas. It seems the thought of the Pistons using their second lottery pick in a decade on an Eastern European, left-handed big man with a funny sounding name who may fancy himself more of a perimeter player than a post player had readers a little terrified. Motiejunas eventually withdrew his name from the draft, so it was a scenario Pistons fans didn’t have to fear, but he’s once again regarded this year as one of the top draft-eligible prospects from Europe, so we might as well take another look.
Measurables: 7-foot-0, 215 pounds, F/C from Lithuania
Key stats: 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent from the field
Projected: Top 15
How would he help the Pistons?
The scouting report on Motiejunas suggests he’s a multi-talented big man who can shoot (above 40 percent from 3-point range in the Italian League this season), put the ball on the floor and score the ball in a variety of ways. The fears that he would be Darko 2.0 are unfounded. Milicic barely played as a pro before joining the Pistons at age 17. Motiejunas is now 20 and plays a key role for his team (his stats will seem low, but remember, Euro teams generally use deeper rotations than American ones, so his minutes are limited). Because Motiejunas can stretch the floor, finish around the basket and pass, paired with Greg Monroe, the Pistons could eventually have one of the more versatile offensive frontcourts in the league.
How wouldn’t he help the Pistons?
Can he rebound? Can he defend? Rebounding isn’t as vital a factor since Monroe looks like he could potentially be among the league leaders. But Monroe has at times struggled defensively this season, and pairing him with a 215-pound center (that’s what Motiejunas was last listed at, he looks bigger in more recent photos though) surely won’t address that shortcoming. Joe Dumars’ recent acquisitions have been heavy on offense, light on defense. If that represents an organizational belief that talented offensive players are at a premium, Motiejunas might make some sense. If Dumars has learned his lesson and wants to re-make the team as a defense-first unit, I doubt he’ll consider Motiejunas.
What are others saying?
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.
This season, he’s showing more than flashes. With an increased role on his team, Motiejunas is finally looking like the lottery pick many scouts projected he would be. Through the first seven games of the Italian League, Motiejunas is averaging 13.4 PPG in 21 MPG. He’s shooting 61 percent from the field and showing scouts that he’s comfortable scoring inside and away from the basket. His body is finally starting to fill out, which helps, as well. He’s still a below-average rebounder and doesn’t add much in the way of defense, but if Motiejunas keeps this up, he looks like a lock for the lottery. One NBA scout told me he could go much higher than that, comparing him to a young Pau Gasol. If the NBA lockout takes out some of the better underclassmen in the draft, the scout’s high-lottery projection might be right.
Versatile lefty bigman with a high ceiling … Has a lot of potential due to his size, agility and offensive development … A finesse 4-man with excellent versatility, but shows the toughness to play inside with contact … Shows a strong ability to run the floor and change directions, start and stop … Has great legs (strong) and feet (quick).