Eric Moreland Comes Out Strong In Debut

Eric Moreland, an affiliate player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has had a few strong performances as he returned to the court for the first time since April.

Nov 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Eric Moreland (25) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Kings 118-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 4, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Eric Moreland (25) against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Kings 118-97. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Moreland has come out the gates strong for the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge. With averages of 10.7 points, 8.0 rebounds (team-high), 1.7 assists, 2.7 steals (team-high) and 1.7 blocks (2nd highest average on the Charge) per game he’s filling up the box as he shows off his tremendous playmaking potential. That’s despite him averaging only averaging 24.9 minutes per game (tied for the 7th highest average on the Charge).

Per 36 minutes, Moreland is averaging 15.5 points (63.6 percent shooting from the field), 11.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 3.9 steals and 2.5 blocks per game. Taken individually, those aren’t gaudy numbers but in the context of a player who hasn’t played in exhibition in eight months and is learning to play in the Cleveland Cavaliers system while with the Charge, Moreland is showing potential to be a productive role player for the Cavs if he should receive a call-up.

The Cleveland Cavaliers currently rank 25th in defensive rebounds and lack the size inside to contend with the bigger centers in the league. In their last game, they gave up 78 points in the paint to the Chicago Bulls. In the three previous games combined they gave up a total of 148 points in the paint, including 60 against the Los Angeles Clippers. They need help inside to say the least.

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In Moreland’s first game, he reeled off an impressive stat line. Facing off against the Oklahoma City Blue and two big-bodied centers in NBA D-League Player of the Month Dakari Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski, Moreland scored 13 points, had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocked shots.

In Moreland’s first minute of action, which came in the last two minutes of the first quarter, he showed his potential on both ends. On the defensive end, he jumped out to defend Johnson at the elbow and his length, quickness and activity already seemed like they would come in handy for the Canton Charge. Once Johnson tried to back him down, he played with a solid and wide bass that prevented him from being backed down easily despite boasting a lean frame. His length and his wingspan seemed to dwarf Johnson, who is a 7-foot tall, 255 pound center. This led to a miss by Johnson.

On the offensive end, Moreland called for the post-up against Tarczewski. Preparing himself for a turnaround hook shot in the post he lost his balance and passed the ball back out to the perimeter so he could reset. Once he reestablished his balance, Moreland quickly went right back to the turnaround hook shot and nailed it from right outside the low-block on the right side of the lane.

Running right back down the floor after his shot instead of celebrating his first field goal in eight months, Moreland was alert on the defensive end and kept the ball in his vision while also keeping a body on Johnson. When Tarczewski backed down his teammate on the other side of the lane, Moreland quickly stepped over for weakside protection. It was called a foul but it was a nice attempt to provide help defense without losing sight of Johnson, who can shoot out to the midrange area.

After the free-throws, the Canton Charge wanted to run a set to get Chris Evans an isolation play on the left wing. As Evans backed his man down, Moreland stayed close to the rim and after two shot attempts went awry, Moreland swooped in for the easy offensive board and the tip-in. Again, even against Tarczewski (6-foot-11) and Johnson, Moreland’s arm length and lankiness made him look like the biggest player on the court.

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Something to look out for is Moreland’s ability to put the ball on the floor in straight line drives. Moreland isn’t a threat to shoot from the perimeter but he can beat a big man off-the-dribble if he’s given too much space. In Moreland’s second game, that’s exactly how he started his night. A dribble-drive right down the middle of the lane for a layup. What Moreland did on the other end was just as interesting.

Matched up against Walter Tavares, a former center for the Atlanta Hawks whose measurables list him at 7-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Moreland’s first possession saw him trapping Brady Heslip at the top of the key. As Moreland switched and went to Travis Leslie as he was passed the ball, he was beat off-the-dribble as Leslie took the ball to the rim. Watching Moreland’s mobility and defensive activity, he’s usually the most active defender on the court for the Charge. Though he was beat by Leslie off-the-dribble the defense should have been able to jump the passing lane. Or, the player who picked up Tavares should have jumped out to stop Leslie before he got to the rim, allowing Moreland to use his size and athleticism to steal the ball as he fronted Tavares in the post.

Moreland found himself matched up against Yanick Moreira the next time down and established himself in the post with ease. Once sealing himself deep inside the paint, after Moreira called for help no less, Moreland scored on a turnaround hook shot from inside the low left block with confidence and grace. Back on the defensive end, Moreland’s length flustered the Raptors 905 as they missed shot over shot as Moreland stood there completely vertical, arms outstretched.

In straight-up man-to-man defense against Tavares in the post, Moreland again showed that his length, strength and athleticism can make a difference for the team defense. He literally spun around Tavares, preventing passes from coming in as he fronted Tavares or prevented Tavares from gaining position by presenting a solid base behind him. On one possession, Moreland’s off-ball defense on Moreland led to a drive by a 905 wing that left him unable to fit the ball inside to Tavares. Instead, he threw up a floater that was promptly blocked by Moreland.

His defense against Tavares, for a team short on players who can defend the bigger centers in the league, inspires a lot of confidence that he can help the Cavs deal with the behemoths of the league. His activity and length make it hard to see teams dropping 50 or more points in the paint with him in the game.

In Moreland’s last game, he earned his first start for the Canton Charge as they took on the Long Island Nets and their undersized frontcourt.

Offensively, the Charge looked to get Moreland going from the outset. On his first attempt, Moreland missed a hook shot that may have come off the rim but cemented itself as Moreland’s go-to move. After playing terrific defense in the midrange, Moreland got the ball to score again the next time down. This time, he used his length and converted at the rim after using a drop-step to establish a foot inside.

The next time down, after a Nets turnover, the Charge went right back to Moreland. Using a jab step, then trying to body his way inside before his drop-step and spin towards the baseline have him the space he needed to get a shot up, he was fouled. Once back on the defensive end, he challenged a shot at the rim and continued to help hold the Nets scoreless for the game’s first three minutes.

On Moreland’s steals, he was a benefactor of great positioning, great use of his length and sure hands as he corralled errant passes. What this game also saw was Moreland’s ability to find teammates in scoring position.

For the Charge, Moreland’s ability to score consistently opened up space for his teammates to attack from the perimeter. Meanwhile, his defense was so impactful whenever he left the game the Nets were able to go on a run. Lastly, Moreland outshined his matchup for the third straight game.

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Of those three games, he faced off against two centers in Tavares and Chris McCullough who have NBA experience. He faced off against two centers in Johnson and Tavares who have prototypical center size.

While the level of competition will raise with a jump to the NBA, Moreland already looks NBA-ready. To start, he’ll need to gain his footing against second unit. centers. In time, and with additional training to build his strength after months of rehab, Moreland shouldn’t have any problem being in the rotation for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Canton Charge’s next game isn’t until Wednesday when they take on the Texas Legends. King James Gospel will continue to track the progress of Moreland as he returns from rehab.

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