Donatas Motiejunas, he of just two practices with the New Orleans Pelicans, met with the media afterwards to discuss his long strange trip back to an NBA roster. He’s been working out by himself for the last couple months and hopes to get back into game shape soon. The Pelicans medical staff has cleared him to play and Motiejunas himself said he’s ready whenever the coaching staff thinks he’s ready.
Alvin Gentry, moments afterward, sounds like that time is coming rather soon. Asked if Motiejunas will play Gentry said minutes as soon as tomorrow night are a possibility. Gentry likes how Motiejunas fits as a center beside Anthony Davis both thanks to his shooting behind the arc (Motiejunas shot 36.8% in 2014-15) and passing ability. One comparison that rolled quickly off Gentry’s tongue was how Channing Frye fit as a stretch five during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns.
An interesting perspective from the head coach concerning inserting a player into the rotation who just arrived the previous day to be sure.
The Channing Frye comparison is certainly going to garner some discussion. When discussing Frye his history before arriving in Phoenix is rarely mentioned. I went in depth on that subject in 2015 hoping for a return of Jason Smith in a similar role. Frye was not a 3-point shooter at all prior to going to Phoenix in 2009. On his career he was 20/70 (28.6%) from deep. During that same span Frye shot 43.8% (415/922) between 16 feet and the 3-point line and 79.9% (385/482) from the free throw line. Frye could shoot, but he had rarely tried threes.
Motiejunas has far more experience behind the arc (110/357 - 30.8%) than Frye did before partnering with Alvin Gentry. The numbers from deep, on long twos (which he rarely took in Houston like everyone else on the team), and from the free throw line (224/366 - 61.2%) do not suggest Donatas Motiejunas is similarly positioned to break out as a stretch five. Most troubling, in my opinion, is the free throw shooting.
While Frye (and yes, Jason Smith) had significant success on long twos and at the free throw line over a number of seasons Motiejunas has just a 133 attempt spike behind the arc during his 2014-15 campaign where he converted an impressive 36.8%. While encouraging the remainder of his career suggests it is possibly, if not likely, an aberration.
Motiejunas as Channing Frye? Sounds awful similar to the idea that Omer Asik could be Andrew Bogut from 2015. Let’s pump the brakes.
As to why Motiejunas may find a place on the floor so soon there is less of a question. Omer Asik has hardly played since being usurped from the starting lineup by Alexis Ajinca in early December, racking up eight DNP-CDs in the last eleven outings. Ajinca’s ten game stay in the starting lineup was a disaster and he too has logged five straight DNP-CDs since Gentry went full small ball.
However, the Atlanta Hawks continue to employ Dwight Howard and the Pelicans would likely prefer to keep the beating on Anthony Davis to a minimum. Hence the possibility Motiejunas could log some spot minutes with just two practices under his belt. New Orleans does not face a massive center during January at all; the next behemoth on the schedule is Andre Drummond on February 1st. Gentry is probably hoping to ease Motiejunas in but banking on lingering animosity from the Houston days with Howard could prove to be a fortuitous bet.
Alvin Gentry sounds like he plans on playing Donatas Motiejunas and sooner rather than later. The Pelicans likely used the lure of potential playing time (and their newfound place in the playoff hunt) to get Motiejunas to New Orleans instead of Minnesota. Motiejunas, if he catches fire like 2014-15, could be the stretch five Gentry wants beside Anthony Davis. Channing Frye? Not so fast.
*Stats from Basketball-Reference