Auburn Hills — Things move quickly in Eric Moreland’s head.
Show on the pick-and-roll. Check to see whether the big man pops out or rolls hard to the basket. Communicate on the weak side. Box out. Run the floor hard.
There’s a lot bouncing around in his mind during each possession — and there’s often not enough time to try to organize his thoughts.
Sometimes when he does, bad things happen.
In Friday’s preseason win over the Atlanta Hawks, Moreland got caught up in his thoughts instead of his instincts. Hawks guard Malcolm Delaney drove to the basket and Moreland was in the paint, but had to make a decision: switch out and guard the ball or box out for the rebound.
The 6-foot-10 center opted to stick to his man, which gave Delaney a clear lane to the basket for an easy lay-in. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was livid, calling a timeout and pulling Moreland from the game.
It’s the danger of thinking instead of reacting.
“I’m always scrambling in my head. I’m active so I have to lock in on the attention to detail,” Moreland said. “(Van Gundy’s) really big into attention to detail. If he says be here and you’re off, (it’s bad).
“I have to get that down, so he can be able to trust me and I can be out there.”
Even being on the court for significant playing time is a victory for Moreland, who is in his first season with the Pistons, after two injury-plagued years and a two-year cameo role with the Sacramento Kings. Moreland, 25, was one of the standouts on the Pistons’ Orlando Summer League team and parlayed that into a three-year, non-guaranteed contact to be the third center.
Moreland showed his upside in Friday’s win, with two points and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes, getting an extended look while Andre Drummond (pink eye) was out and backup Boban Marjanovic rested.
He showed good energy on the boards and held his own, for the most part. That is, when he wasn’t letting the many thoughts of his defensive responsibilities get the best of him. And Van Gundy let him have it in a verbal tirade after the mental gaffe.
“I sort of regretted that moment and I talked to him today. I wanted to be clear that I was happy with the way he played but I still think there’s more there,” Van Gundy said Sunday. “What you find sometimes with guys like that is that he’s been on this mission to get in the league full time. He’s there and I just want him to hold himself to a higher standard.”
Six of Moreland’s rebounds came on the offensive end and on the defensive end, he didn’t look out of place among some of the starters. While he didn’t have a big impact in the scoring column, his energy got some extra chances for others, which is part of the simplicity of his job description: hustle, defend and rebound.
“I’ve had a couple of those games, but on an NBA level, that’s always good to have,” Moreland said. “Hopefully I’ll get some more of those and get the team some extra possessions. Coach always likes those and those are winning plays.”
That’s a nice thought, but it has to be more of an instinct than a thought, which is where the improvement comes in. He’s not traditionally a big-time scorer — 0.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in his 11 career regular-season games — but Van Gundy thought there were more scoring opportunities in Friday’s game.
Moreland is looking to develop that in time, but for now, it’s just about finding a niche, like other versatile big men before him. The hustle and effort can make a bigger difference.
“Eric did a phenomenal job: Two points and 13 rebounds — it’s like (Dennis) Rodman,” forward Stanley Johnson said. “He should have scored much more than he did.”
Simplicity will be the key to getting more playing time for Moreland. It’ll likely come when the backup centers are more mobile and will pose a problem for Marjanovic, who, at 7-foot-4, has difficulty with perimeter-playing centers.
Getting more playing time and smoothing out the rough edges will help Moreland, but it’s more about trying to stay in a good mental place, with his successes and challenges.
“He can’t accept that from himself — that was my point to him,” Van Gundy said. “The problem is that I got on him so hard but I didn’t want his overall impression to be that we were unhappy with the way he played overall.
“I was really happy with the way he played, but those things are not excusable.”
That’s where the simplicity works best.
“It’s simplified, trying to go out there and play hard is a talent and being locked in and talking the whole time,” Moreland said. “If I could go out there and bring some energy like that, it simplifies it for the team.”
More doing, less thinking.