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Future Rocket Fixture? Prepare To Spend Some Time in Rio Grande Valley

Houston uses its affiliate to get promising players substantial playing time.

The future of the Houston Rockets will be calling Rio Grande Valley home. For now at least.

On Wednesday, the Rockets announced that they have assigned two promising young players – center Donatas Motiejunas and guard Scott Machado – to their affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Both players started the year on Houston’s active roster and competed for the Rockets in NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Emerging as the best way for a team to groom younger players, we expected NBA teams to make a big leap in utilizing the NBA D-League as a way to get green players some regular playing time this year, and this move signals just that.

What the Rockets are doing with Motiejunas and Machado parallels what they did with Marcus Morris, the No. 14 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, last season. Morris was assigned to RGV twice, playing 11 games and averaging over 20 points a night. Once he got called back up to Houston, he got more run and this year he is logging nearly 20 minutes a game and averaging 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Motiejunas, the 7-foot Lithuanian known as D-Mo, shined in Las Vegas like a Cirque du Soleil billboard. In the four games he played, he produced games of 20 points and 12 rebounds, 25 and 9 and 19 and 6, with only one subpar showing. Even Dean Martin takes a night off, right? Listed at 222 pounds, the No 20 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft could add a little muscle to his frame for good measure, but by and large he is physically able to compete in an NBA paint right now. In fact, unlike Machado, he's already appeared in a regular season game with the Rockets (3 points in 5 minutes vs. Detroit on Nov. 10).

Like many big men in today's NBA, Motiejunas could use some polish, and the amount of playing time he’ll see in Rio Grande Valley should help that. Expect big numbers out of this big fella until the Rockets enlist his services again.

Machado, who was surprisingly not drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, landed a spot with the Rockets and had a strong showing in Summer League as well. The Iona graduate who led the NCAA in assists by averaging 10.1 per game his senior year, showed good command of the offense and averaged 5.6 assists over five games in Vegas. While there are a plethora of combo guards masquerading as point guards in the NBA D-League, Machado is a true point guard with a proven track record.

He will now take the reigns of the RGV offense and, since the Vipers are a single affiliate, be running Houston’s system. This will give him invaluable minutes to get accustomed to the type of game that he will be playing when he likely gets called back up.

Both players are expected to join the Vipers Wednesday and participate in the teams’ training camp. The next step of their pursuit of the starts when Rio Grande Valley’s season tips off on Friday, Nov. 23 against the Bakersfield Jam.