As the media gathered around Eric Moreland for the postgame interviews in the locker room last week after the Pistons’ final game of the season, Andre Drummond joined in the fray.
It’s a switch because the crowd generally is around Drummond, but he flipped the script, turning the opportunity into an impromptu live Instagram post.
“Big Drip!” Drummond bellowed from the back of the scrum, referring to Moreland by his nickname — an homage to the swagger in Moreland’s game and wardrobe.
Moreland more than earned the moniker on that night, with career highs of 16 points and 17 rebounds and added four blocks, four steals and four assists in a win over the Chicago Bulls. It was a very Drummond-like stat line, on a night when Drummond sat out because of a sore Achilles.
Moreland played a career-high 41 minutes and drew praise from his teammates and from coach Stan Van Gundy, who used words like outstanding and great to describe his improved play on both ends of the floor.
It’s a marked difference from where Moreland began the season, as something of an unknown quantity. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Moreland was an alternative to Boban Marjanovic as Drummond’s backup.
Regarded for his athleticism and energy, Moreland hadn’t been an offensive stalwart; he didn’t get his first basket until his sixth game, when he notched six points and nine rebounds in a win over the Bucks.
Moreland sat out all of last season and had played a combined 11 games in his first two years in the NBA, shelved by various maladies. With good health this season, he played in 67 games and was able to contribute on a consistent basis.
“My first few years were season-ending injuries and I didn’t get a chance to get out there,” Moreland said. “I’m super thankful to be healthy and to figure it out. I’ve had some mental blocks and struggles this year trying to figure it out.”
He’s had some help.
During summer league, Moreland was a bit of a surprise, flashing his defensive energy and getting some individual work with Pistons general manager Jeff Bower to improve on his free throws. With Jon Leuer as a potential third center, Moreland was on a minimum contract and looked just to be a stopgap in case of a rash of injuries.
Leuer suffered a season-ending ankle injury eight games into the season and Marjanovic wasn’t a good every-night matchup for opposing centers.
The appeal was clear, but at times inconsistent. In one stint of a game, he was a foul magnet, picking up two quick personal fouls; in another, he was contesting shots and getting a block at the rim. The offense took a bit longer to catch on, but as he gained confidence, he sought to score more.
“He’s been good, and he’s starting to look at the rim a bit more when he catches the ball on (pick-and-rolls),” Van Gundy said. “He’s given us a lot of value for a minimum-salary guy. He’s been good and he’s helped us win games.”
Now that he’s healthy, he’s getting a chance to show all the parts of his game. It’s still a long way away from the workouts in summer league, when a career night with a big-time double-double was just a figment.
“I can’t say I thought I’d do that. I tried to go in every day and try to get high on the totem pole. I was trying to work my way up,” he said. “I’m glad they believed in me and played me all year. I’m truly thankful to be on a team that gave me an opportunity to show what I can do.”
'A GOOD RESUME'
The future isn’t certain for Moreland, though. His contract for next season isn’t fully guaranteed — the first trigger date is July 8 — so he could be back with the Pistons, or he could just as easily be with another team. Whether Van Gundy and the front office and coaching staff returns intact could be a big factor.
Weighing Moreland’s production against his minimum salary could be things that work in his favor, especially in an effort to balance the mammoth contracts of Drummond and Blake Griffin.
It’s a bit of uncertainty, but it’s a far cry from where Moreland was last summer, just trying to latch on with a team. Whether it’s for the Pistons or another team, Moreland has shown that he’s an NBA-level talent and shouldn’t toil in the development league.
“I would hope (not the D League). I try to go out there and do what I can and not try to put too much pressure,” Moreland said. “I’ve got a body of work and people got to see more and coaches see they can trust me in big situations.
“It feels good (going into the summer) and hopefully I’ll have a good resume going into next season.”
Moreland also made an impression in the Pistons’ locker room, where he’s one of the more colorful characters — both in his attire and personality.
“You had big numbers. Are you trying to take my job?” Drummond joked.
Not quite. But Moreland may be forging his own way to carving out a niche for himself.