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Five key plays from the next man up Eric Moreland in win over Rockets

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Moreland’s 36 minutes were active and just what the Pistons needed.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night’s 108-101 Detroit Pistons win over the Houston Rockets was something the team (and its fans) sorely needed after a rough patch of three losses in four games, in particular the rather embarrassing performance just the night prior against the Philadelphia 76ers.

It was an impressive team effort from all nine players who saw action. These nine players didn’t include All-Star Andre Drummond, as he sat out to give some much needed rest to his ribs.

“Next man up” is an often used phrase that refers to a team’s players that are front in line to take advantage of an opportunity for additional playing time and responsibility. With Drummond not available, Stan Van Gundy entered Eric Moreland in to the starting lineup and, consequently, Moreland became the initial next man up. Eric did not disappoint in his 36 minutes of playing time, giving the team a steadying force on both ends of the court, especially in the second half.

His eight points (on five shots), eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block won’t jump out too much, but they certainly lead one to believe he impacted the game positively.

He also shot 2-of-2 from the charity stripe after he was intentionally fouled (hack-a-Moreland) in the fourth quarter. How do you like them apples, Houston?

Let’s take a closer look at some of Moreland’s finer, fundamental moments in the game.

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Eric, more times than not, makes the simple play — such as the smart pass or the perfectly executed charge — avoiding trying to out-think himself or stray from of his comfort zone. He’s realizes what he’s good at and what he’s not good at and he plays according to what the team needs out of him.

In this first clip, even before receiving the pass from a driving Tobias, Eric knows he has Avery behind him — and instead of forcing up a shot in a bit of traffic, he finds the wide open shooter. It’s the simple and correct decision. Yet, it is clear that Eric ever so slightly fumbles the rock after receiving it from Tobias and in doing so it may have led him to be more willing to kick it back out.

This is just plain heady. So, we know that Eric understands Anthony Tolliver’s jump-shot happy game (as does everyone else in the know about Detroit basketball). There aren’t many secrets or wrinkles about it. Eric also knows that Tolliver only blows by his defender about twice per month, so when Tolliver does blow by, you’d better be ready for anything.

As Tolliver drives to his left, Eric finds a sliver of open space and has his stance and hands ready to make the simple, fundamental play as soon as he receives the ball. It’s all about preparation. Tolliver’s pass would have bounced off Eric’s face if he wasn’t expecting it.

I’ll say one thing: Eric isn’t always in the right position to be in the thick of the action, but so often during the second half against Houston he was consistently around the ball and making his presence felt. Move to open space and there’s a good chance you will find something. Once in a blue moon you can turn that something into a no-look pass to your cutting point guard to put your team up big. Ish might not outwardly show that he’s tickled pink, but you know he is. Point guards love to be spoiled.

Here’s the full version of the play.

While Rocket’s starting center Clint Capela is a developing and emerging offensive player, he’s not close to a finished product in certain offensive facets — and I’m positive this note is included in all NBA scouting reports. Capela might be a lethal finisher around the basket via plays from others, but not necessarily via plays he creates himself. Yes, Eric is aware of this.

Eric moves his feet and refrains from reaching in unnecessarily — because after all, Capela is already in a dire enough situation with the shot clock running down. Don’t try to get fancy and wind up bailing him out if a whistle is blown. Eric finishes out the play by contending the shot just enough to be a nuisance but also still be in decent position after the shot goes up to be an immediate factor on the glass (or be in position for a rejection). All athletic (or even stiff-y) big men from time to time get greedy and go for the big time block, but then are totally out of position to be of any importance in the play just a second later, often giving up the easy weak side rebound / put back.

Quite simply, just know the personnel you’re facing. Play accordingly. Eric did that a lot in this game.

As most of you know, the block statistic can be a somewhat tricky one to fully grasp the importance and value of. Blocks look nice on the stat sheet. They stand out. But they don’t usually tell the whole story. What I’m getting at is, shots that players alter (or even bother) don’t have their own place in stats yet. For reference, Eric is averaging two blocks per 36 minutes. What about how many shots he alters or bothers (like the play above) per 36 minutes? Some very good interior defenders don’t always block the most shots. Also, to be frank, Eric is still far away from becoming a consistent terrorizing force (again, positioning is an ongoing battle for him). Though, Eric could get there in time.

If Van Gundy deems Moreland mobile and aware enough to help defend all Chris Paul initiated pick-and-rolls, then you can bet Eric Gordon briefly driving past Moreland on a fast break isn’t any sort of worry for the big man. He can keep up. And Moreland smartly doesn’t go for the emphatic swat as soon as Gordon puts up his shot; instead he’s controlled and is rewarded for it by having the ball knock off Gordon and out of bounds. Detroit basketball.

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Moreland, a 26-year-old with just 11 career NBA games with Sacramento (in two separate seasons) to his name before this season with Detroit, is proving that he was a practical and financially responsible addition for the organization. Eric’s salary for this season will be $1,739,333.

For a backup center, Saturday’s performance from Moreland was an exciting look into his development and willingness to stay ready and perform at a solid level when called on. Eric probably will never be a 36 minute a night guy ever again, but it’s comforting to know he’s more than capable of stepping up in times of need. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Eric doesn’t lack much confidence while on the basketball court, however, if he ever has any doubts creep in, he’ll only need to look to this game to see that everything will be alright. Just play your game.

Lots of NBA teams don’t even have one regularly impactful backup center, while the Pistons have two that do different things well, keep teams on their toes and can help win meaningful games. Let’s hope that going forward the coaches use them in the most efficient and useful ways possible.