Eric Moreland managed to make the front office that signed him look both smart and dumb at the same time.
After an injury-plagued start to his NBA career, Moreland was out of the league in 2016-17, spending the season in the D-League. Things finally went his way with the Canton Charge, where he made the D-League All Star Game, was third team All-NBA D-League, and the NBA D-League All-Defensive Team.
The Pistons brought Moreland in for a look with their Summer League team and liked what they saw. A springy big man who is willing to do the dirty work, play hard, and knows how to rebound and block shots. He averaged 7.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in the Summer League and earned a three year contract for his efforts.
But for the dumb part…
So on July 12, 2016 the Pistons inked Boban Marjanovic to a three year, $21 million contract as insurance for when Aron Baynes outperformed his contract and opted out of his 2017-18 deal with the Pistons. Boban would spend one season as an overpaid third stringer, but two years as a solid backup center.
Eric Moreland went and screwed that up. Thanks to his mobility on the defensive end, he stole the backup job from Boban and regulated him to another year as overpaid third stringer before eventually being traded to the Clippers as part of the Blake Griffin deal.
While Boban’s lack of playing time was a frustration for many Pistons fans thanks to his incredible productivity, it was easy to see why Stan Van Gundy preferred Moreland. Boban was a disruptive force, both for better and for worse. Moreland just fit right in.
When Boban stepped on the court, everyone knew what would happen. The Pistons would target him in the post and the opposing team would target him defensively, trying to force him to play in space. They had no such luxury with Moreland. He wasn’t going to be as productive, wouldn’t be the advanced stats darling, but he was mostly effective. Particularly defensively and on the boards. And he was able to do things like this:
Moreland sported a 99.7 defensive rating, well below the team’s 104.8. He wasn’t a lockdown defender, as his slight frame was exploited at times when he was matched up with players who knew how to take advantage of it.
But he made solid rotations, played the pick and roll well, and could be counted on to challenge the shot.
So much of the defensive end is about playing hard and with energy, and Moreland certainly did that. And watching his blocks is really fun. Here’s some more.
And his rebounding was excellent. He didn’t play enough minutes to qualify for the league leaderboards, but if you filter the league with how many minutes he did play, he was 16th in the league in rebounding percentage.
The offensive side of the ball though...well, the Pistons didn’t sign him for it. Sometimes I have favorite things about a team that aren’t necessarily good things, but just amuse me. For instance, there was this stretch where Bullock just never went to the line. Early in the season, this panicked look that Moreland got when he’d get a pass was one of those. It was basically an “Oh shit oh shit” look where he seemed like he wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
But he settled in pretty quickly as the season progressed. As the Pistons looked to get Andre Drummond more involved in the offense as a passer and in the dribble handoff game, they kept the same sets in place for Moreland. And he did pretty well!
Much was made about Andre Drummond’s passing improvement, but Moreland kept up with him. Dre finished the season with a 14.3 percent assist percentage while Moreland’s was 13.3 percent.
Eric Moreland was a rock solid rotation player. He’s not the guy who is going to go win a bunch of games for you and isn’t likely to follow Baynes’ footsteps as a future starter in the playoffs. But backup center is taken care of looking ahead. And for cheap!
Moreland is under contract for $1.8 million next year, $1.9 in the following season. Both seasons are unguaranteed, but Moreland’s proven himself well worth those dollars. For a team needing to pinch pennies, that’s important.