So far, the transition hasnt been easy, which is to be expected considering the immense jump in the level of competition he's facing, but he has been making progress from week to week, something well have to continue to track as the season moves on.
Motiejunas is coming off the bench for Benetton, playing most of the frontcourt minutes (16.4 on average at the moment) left over by power forward Judson Wallace and center Sandro Nicevic. In contrast to last season, hes not a focal point for his team offensively in the least bit, mostly living off scraps in the form of pick and roll finishes, weak-side cuts, spot-up jumpers, easy finishes recieving the ball in transition, and the occasional post-up play. Considering his rookie status and the stage of development hes currently at, this is not a surprise in the least bit. This season has been a learning experience for Motiejunas thus far, one that will very likely be very beneficial as he makes the transition to first round draft pick and eventually, NBA player.
The main thing holding Motiejunas back at the moment is his lack of strength, which has been incredibly evident in all the film weve seen thus far, on both ends of the court. Motiejunas lacks the bulk to operate as effectively in the paint as his terrific skill-set and athleticism indicates he should be able to, struggling to establish position inside and having a very difficult time finishing his moves in traffic when taking contact around the rim.
Defensively, Motiejunas is getting posted up quite a bit, leading him to foul at a very high rate, and having a difficult time with his off the ball defense, looking somewhat lost on rotations. Hes agile enough to step out nicely on the perimeter and hedge screens defending the pick and roll, but will require experience at this level to learn how to put his athletic gifts to proper use.
Perhaps the place where Motiejunas is struggling the most right now is on the glass, having grabbed just four defensive rebounds in 82 minutes of action through five Italian league games. Its not hard to come away with the feeling at times that Motiejunas lacks quite a bit of toughness watching him being boxed out with ease while casually going after loose balls with one hand, and this will be a significant concern for NBA decision makers moving forward if he cant find a way to pick up his play here. He looks very indifferent setting screens and stepping in to take charges, avoiding contact and not really being in a huge rush to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team.
On the positive side, Motiejunas terrific talent-level is constantly on display, sometimes in small flashes and sometimes in very large ones. His excellent hands, extremely nimble footwork and terrific mobility are all huge assets that have clearly translated to this level of competition, and have already allowed Motiejunas to establish himself as a scoring presence even with limited possessions.
The terrific touch he displays around the rim is especially impressive. Hes an incredibly natural scorer in the paint, converting on beautiful hook shots, hitting spot-up jumpers, putting the ball on the floor nicely, and converting other unorthodox shots confidently and instinctively. The fact that Benetton really has no true point guard on their roster probably isnt helping him that much, but the Lithuanian big man is talented enough to go out and get his own offense, which not many 19-year olds playing at this level of competition can say.
Benetton unfortunately was not able to get past French minions Orleans in the Euroleague qualifying stage, meaning well have to settle for watching Motiejunas play on Tuesdays in the EuroCup instead. Hell compete against the likes of Kevin Seraphin at Cholet and Nemanja Bjelica at Red Star Belgrade, which will at least make NBA scouts a little less unhappy.
Right now Motiejunas looks a little bit lost, clearly lacking some confidence and needing time to settle into his new role against the much stronger opponents hes facing compared with last season. Its way too early at this juncture to draw any long-term conclusions based on Motiejunas play, so well just have to continue to watch closely and see how he progresses.
Gecevicius is interestingly operating as his teams primary backup point guard this season and is finding some success there thanks to his excellent feel for the game. He lacks great physical attributes, though, being somewhat one-dimensional as he relies very heavily on his 3-point stroke. Skinny, and not particularly big or athletic, he likely lacks the physical attributes (especially on the defensive end) to be considered a very interesting NBA prospect in this, his draft-eligible year. Regardless, he looks poised to develop into a terrific player for high-level Europe.
Aradori is doing it for a good team too, as Biella currently sits in 3rd place with a 4-1 record, fresh off a terrific road win over Rome this past weekend. Lets see if Aradori, together with the rest of coach Luca Bechis troops at Biella can keep it up, particularly as they begin to play twice a week when the EuroCup kicks off at the end of this month.
Milutinovic seems to have found a new bounce in his step, as hes attacking the rim with great purpose on a regular basis, often finishing extremely well once there. Beyond that, hes been absolutely lights out from beyond the arc, converting on over half of his four 3-point attempts (52%), while shooting a blistering 64% from 2-point range. For a prospect often criticized for being passive and not playing up to his full potential, Milutinovic has been about as aggressive as you could hope for in the early going of the season, both in the half-court and in transition situations.
Only five games into the season, its still a bit too early to get overly excited about Milutinovics performance. Still, considering his very nice physical attributes for a European prospect, and extremely young age, its something worth noting and following as the year moves on.