TORONTO – The game took place 11 years ago in a Las Vegas holiday tournament, but Wesley Johnson still remembers competing against a Purdue University freshman with a strikingly old-school approach. As the never-flashy E’Twaun Moore dropped in mid-range baskets and crafty floaters over Toronto’s defense Monday during a 30-point eruption, it reminded Johnson that some things never change.
“You know what’s funny, he was playing that way even back then,” said a smiling Johnson, an Iowa State freshman in 2007, when the Cyclones lost a close game to Moore’s Boilermakers. “His floater, if it’s not the best (in the NBA), it’s right up there, because it seems like he doesn’t miss it. It’s just crazy how accurate he is with it.”
Thousands of Toronto fans were thinking something similar Monday in Scotiabank Arena, as they watched the often-underrated Moore produce one of the best games of his eight-year NBA career. A few months shy of his 30th birthday, the 6-foot-4 starting shooting guard deposited 30 points against the Raptors on 13/18 shooting, spearheading a Pelicans 126-110 win.
True to form, Moore generated no dunks or highlight-reel plays, but consistently exploited openings in one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenses. He’s now 20/28 from the floor over the past two games, upping his field-goal percentage this season to 56.2, which is No. 1 in the league among non-power forwards and centers.
“He’s very efficient and consistent,” Johnson said. “He’s a professional – he knows what he does well and goes out and does that. The team as a whole puts him in great positions to succeed, and he’s definitely taking advantage of it.”
“E’Twaun was being E’Twaun,” Pelicans five-time All-Star Anthony Davis described of Moore’s steady performance in Toronto. “He can do more than shoot. He can put it down and make plays at both ends of the floor... He doesn’t force anything; he always makes the right plays.”
Moore appeared headed for a potential career high in scoring (36 points at Houston on Dec. 11, 2017) in the first quarter, scoring 12 points in the first nine minutes, including sinking shots from 13, six and 10 feet, according to the play-by-play.
“I was just making plays in the paint, taking what the defense gives me,” Moore said. “Jrue (Holiday) and AD both did a good job of screening for me. I had the hot hand, so I just tried to make plays to help us get the win.”
At 6-foot-5 and not blessed with the exceptional athleticism some NBA perimeter players possess, Moore’s ability to toss in runners over the defense often comes in handy. It’s a skill he’s always utilized, but he’s never had more opportunities to put it on display, averaging a career-high 10.5 total shot attempts per game. His scoring average of 14.8 points is also tops for him as a pro.
“I always had the floater in my game,” Moore explained. “I’ve shot it a lot. This year, I’m just trying to be aggressive. Teams key in on Jrue, Julius (Randle) and those guys. For me to come in and be another threat, it makes our team very deep, very dangerous, hard to beat.”
New Orleans (7-6) has won three straight games and gotten double-digit scoring from Moore in all but one of its seven victories. His 30-point eruption in Canada matched the second-best offensive game of his career.
“It was definitely his night,” Johnson said. “He definitely was rolling. He carried us in the first half and set the tone. He led us throughout the game.”
Moore: “I was in a good rhythm. Any time you’re in a good rhythm and feeling good, you’ve got to be aggressive and take it. I had the hot hand, so they kept coming to me.”