Pistons' Eric Moreland turns heads in summer league
Orlando, Fla. — It didn’t take much for Eric Moreland to get going.
He had a pair of free throws, a hook in the lane and then another basket, all in less than a minute. And the energy kept going throughout the rest of the game, as Moreland was all over the court: blocking shots, corralling rebounds and finding ways to be around the ball.
Moreland, at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, has been one of the big revelations for the Pistons this week in the Orlando Summer League, where he is looking more and more like a potential fit as the Pistons’ third center when training camp begins in the fall.
In two games in summer league, Moreland is averaging 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and four blocks, with 15 points and six rebounds in Sunday’s 103-78 win over the New York Knicks.
“He always plays with an engine; he’s got a motor and it’s kind of contagious. He’s a big body and very physical, really talented and skilled,” said rookie Luke Kennard, who had 14 points, five rebounds and three assists on Sunday. “He’s all over the boards and wherever the ball is, he’s around it.
“You can feed off that energy and I love playing with him. He’s a finisher and he makes the right plays; he knows if he needs to pass it out or score the ball.”
For Moreland, 25, it’s a bit of a comeback story after an injury-riddled first two seasons with Sacramento. He played in just 11 games in those two years and posted just 0.9 points and 1.1 rebounds and 4.5 minutes.
Now, he’s getting a new opportunity with the Pistons, who don’t have an available position behind Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic. Indications are the Pistons seek a young, athletic, low-salary big man in that spot — and that could point to Moreland, who has turned some heads with his energy.
“The Pistons were pretty interested and I thought it was a good opportunity to come in and use that interest to showcase what I can do. Now that I’m healthy, I’m just showing that I’m ready to go,” Moreland said. “When I was with the Kings, I was hurt for those two years and I got a chance to soak in all that information being around those vets and seeing that lifestyle.
“When I was hurt, I got a chance to learn that stuff and when I got back last year, I tried to implement that and bring it into this year. I just keep going and trying to grow as a player.”
The biggest improvement is on the defensive end, where Moreland has been good at guarding drives to the rim and being in the right spots to make plays on defense. He’s shown that he can move his feet and not get beat off the dribble, which is an asset in guarding pick-and-roll plays and having to defend smaller guards.
Pistons forward Henry Ellenson has seen it all week in summer league practice, but it’s starting to show up in game situations — and he’s been one of the beneficiaries.
“Eric Moreland is fun to play with because it makes your job easier in terms of rim protection,” said Ellenson, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists on Sunday. “If your guy gets past you, he’s aggressive on the defensive end going to block the shot. He’s done that both games a couple times.
“Rebounding, he’s able to seal a guy out. Playing with guys like that is a lot of fun.”
Being healthy is the biggest key for Moreland, who played in the Development League last season and is one of the oldest players on the Pistons’ summer league roster. He carries that experience with him and is looking to stick with a roster and make more significant contributions.
He said he had a shoulder injury in the 2014-15 season and a broken fifth metatarsal (pinkie toe) the following year.
“When I was with the Kings, I was hurt for those two years and I got a chance to soak in all that information being around those vets and seeing that lifestyle,” Moreland said. “When I was hurt, I got a chance to learn that stuff and when I got back last year, I tried to implement that and bring it into this year. I just keep going and trying to grow as a player.”
Moreland could have picked any NBA team to play with in the summer league but chose the Pistons because he saw a good fit — both in playing style and in a potential opportunity to make the roster.
It’s looking like a good decision.
“Stan (Van Gundy) likes gritty, hard-nosed guys who get in there and play hard. That’s exactly what I do and I wanted them to see me up-close and personal, and do what I do best and play hard,” Moreland said. “It’s a good opportunity but I don’t want to overthink stuff; I just want to do what I do best and let things take care of themselves. Whether it works out or not, I just want to do what I can.”