Earlier this week, the Clippers and Mavericks agreed to a small trade where Los Angeles sent the rights of 32-year-old Italian forward Maarty Leunen and $50k to Dallas in exchange for 33-year-old Renaldas Seibutis and two-way prospect Johnathan Motley. Although the majority of people might look at this move as a sign that we’re in the doldrums of the offseason, it’s actually significant due to being the first trade to include a two-way prospect. Coinciding with that, Clippers fans in particular shouldn’t overlook this move as Motley stands an intriguing front-court prospect with some upside.
During the first year of his two-way deal, Motley was arguably the best front-court player in the G League as a member of the Texas Legends. In 34 games with Texas, the 6’10 forward flirted with a double-double, averaging 22.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.1 block per game on 56% from the field. Motley’s great all-around play helped push the Legends to their first playoff appearance since the 2010-11 season.
Motley also looked promising for the Mavericks when he started to get significant minutes late in the season. During their last 10 game of the season, Motley averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds on 51% from the field. This included a game-high 26 points and 12 rebounds on 11-19 shooting in an April 6th game against the Detroit Pistons. Motley displayed a diverse offensive arsenal, contributing as a post-up player, on-ball driver, mid-range/perimeter shooter and on the offensive glass. Aside from perimeter shooting, these tools were significant parts of his offensive arsenal during his stellar rookie year with the Legends.
Most of those skills were made possible due to his terrific work in the pinch post. For starters, Motley shined as a roll man in the pick-and-roll as the 6’10 and 230 pound prospect is a great target due to his large frame, quick feet and superb athleticism.
In addition to his work as a roll man, Motley proved he can cause even more damage when he has the ball in his hands. That danger comes from how he can keep defenders on their toes due to his diverse skill-set. At any moment, he can decide to use a quick first step to drive to the paint, hit a mid-range shot or post-up on either the left or right block. Although he’s not terrific in any of these areas, Motley is good enough to prevent the opposition from knowing what he’s going to do next.
Although he impressed during his rookie year, Motley has room to grow as a player. From an offensive perspective, he can become more efficient as a perimeter shooter. He only shot 28% from beyond the arc with the Legends. Just improving into a league-average perimeter shooter would significantly improve his chances to be a significant part of an NBA rotation for years to come.
Motley’s opportunity to evolve as an offensive player next year will likely happen in the G League, as his current status as a two-way prospect limits his opportunities at the NBA level. With that said, the Clippers should still keep a close on the 23-year-old big as they’ll have to fill open spots after the 2019 off-season when both Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic become unrestricted free agents.
Aside from that duo, the only other center that the team has under contract is Montzrel Harrell, a 6’8 player that was a power forward during his time at Louisville and in his first two seasons in the NBA. With the Clippers front-court future in question, that gives Motley a perfect opportunity to shine at the G League level this year before hopefully becoming a member of the big league club’s rotation for the 2019-20 season and beyond.
It’s safe to say that he stands as a unique prospect with a diverse offensive arsenal that has allowed him to impress at both the G League and NBA level as a rookie. That idea alone would make anyone realize that the Clippers robbed the Mavericks as they just had to send $50k and exchange some unknown Euro vets to receive Motley’s rights. However, that theft could become even more evident in the future as the 23-year-old prospect still has a lot of time to grow as an all-around talent before he actually reaches his prime years as a player.