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Scott Howard-Cooper

Donatas Motiejunas is out to prove he's more than just a sweet-shooting perimeter player.
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images Sport

Motiejunas out to prove he's no typical European big man

Posted Jun 17 2011 9:42AM - Updated Jun 17 2011 11:12AM

TREVISO, Italy -- Fish that kill eagles. That's where the conversation went.

It started when Donatas Motiejunas reached across his chest with his right hand and clutched the white tank top where the material bends below the arm pit, just about at his heart. Of course at his heart. That's the point.

Donatas Motiejunas prospect profile

Motiejunas drew the shirt back to reveal the tattoo that took three painful visits over a year to complete. The eagle, in flight, covered most of his left chest. It is clenching a basketball and fire streams off the back of the ball. It's an actual statement of his appreciation of the bird and potential symbolism of his NBA future.

The Lithuanian, who played the last two seasons here for Benetton Treviso, is a potential top-10 pick in the upcoming Draft and will almost certainly be selected in the lottery. But his arrival into the NBA feels somewhat overlooked.

He might have been the first overseas prospect drafted in 2010, but he withdrew from that Draft. This year, most teams project that Motiejunas will be at best the fourth international prospect picked -- after Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo, in some order -- and fifth if Enes Kanter's freshman season of only practicing at Kentucky is discounted. Motiejunas is regarded as a very skilled offensive player, but one who at 6-foot-11 is the unfortunate stereotype of the European big man who would rather wander the perimeter than smash inside. That's not exactly a report on a power forward that builds excitement.

He has more to prove than a year ago, when there was more of a newness and, because of the lack of experience, a willingness by NBA executives and scouts to overlook the appearance of wanting to avoid contact. Motiejunas has become the bird he so admires for its refusal to give in.

"I read a lot of books about eagles," he said. "It sort of inspires me. I really like the attitudes of eagles. It's really nice."

The attitudes?

"They never give up. When they grab, for example, a fish or something else, they never let it go. It doesn't matter. In a book, they write they find a skeleton of (an) eagle and there is no fish. It means that the fish beat him and killed him, but he didn't let go."

It is strictly coincidence that his inspiration is also a symbol of his next adopted home country, barring an unexpected move by the Raptors to take him at No. 5. Realistically, he is a candidate to be selected in the second half of the lottery, though falling out of the top 14 seems unlikely. For all the knocks on him being a non-rebounding power forward, there is a definite appeal to someone who can score with that size and create offensive mismatches.

"I think he's exactly what we all get teased by over there," said one general manager. Even with the nod to his talent, the GMs words weren't meant as a compliment.

The Bucks are the most-logical landing spot, if logic comes into play. They're picking 10th, the heart of Motiejunas territory. Milwaukee's priority is to improve its offense, which was 30th in scoring and shooting and 24th in 3-point shooting. Playing next to a good defensive center is a must, and Andrew Bogut would cover a lot of Motiejunas' mistakes and rebounding shortcomings.

"I think I'm a pretty good player who can do a lot of stuff," Motiejunas said. "I'm a different type of player than all the other Americans are. I like the speed game, and the NBA is a speed game. I'm not scared of contact. I think I'll move really fast."

He added that people around the NBA "are going to see that I have a lot of stuff like moves and all this stuff that is old school. You cannot find those moves anymore in the game in the States, the shots like I have. I think I'm going to be a pretty new player." Hooks and the like. An old kind of new.

This could go several ways. If Motiejunas turns into a talented scoring threat, capable of averaging in the high-teens, nobody in the league will be really surprised. If he becomes nothing more than a role player, held back by deficiencies on defense and rebounding, a lot of people will have seen that coming, too. Or maybe he arrives determined to show doubters he can play physical, or at least try, and a team ends up with a long-time starter.

Maybe he arrives with the attitude of eagles.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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