E'Twaun Moore fires a three-point shot at New York

Pelicans 2019 preseason profile: E’Twaun Moore

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

As NBA salaries have skyrocketed, you’ll sometimes hear retired players like Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller half-jokingly say they wish they’d been born 20 years later, in order to cash in on the fabulous current market. On TNT’s studio show, a grinning Barkley occasionally vows that if he were playing in the league today, his contract would be so extravagant that he “would show up to games in a spaceship.”

While E’Twaun Moore has always seemed content with how he’s compensated by the New Orleans Pelicans, he does sometimes wonder if his NBA draft stock might be significantly higher in 2019 than it was in 2011, when Boston picked him 55th overall. In the eight years since he debuted in the league, one of Moore’s biggest strengths – three-point shooting – has become a much more coveted and valuable skill.

“It’s crazy – I’ve said before that if I was coming out of college now, I would’ve gotten drafted a lot higher, just because of the way the game is,” the four-year Purdue University player good-naturedly said of NBA teams emphasizing three-point prowess to a vastly greater extent today. “There is such a difference in the game. When I first came into the league, some of the contested threes that players would take, (coaches) would say, ‘That’s a bad shot! Why are you shooting that?’ But now, shooting contested threes is acceptable. It’s a pretty big change.”

With a career three-point percentage of 39.2, Moore is 64th on the NBA’s all-time list in that category (teammate JJ Redick is 18th all-time at 41.3 percent), including 19th among active players. How much more important is that skill now than when Moore debuted in the NBA? During the lockout-shortened ’11-12 season, which Moore spent as a Celtics rookie, teams averaged 18.4 three-point attempts per game. By last season, that number had increased by nearly 75 percent, with teams launching an average of 32.0 treys.

Moore has shot over 42 percent from three-point range in each of the past two seasons, putting him in some rare company, as one of only three prolific marksmen to accomplish that (Steph Curry and Buddy Hield are the others).  But he hasn’t relied only on the long ball while averaging 11.3 points in three seasons with New Orleans – he’s also the practitioner of one of the NBA’s more effective floater shots. The 30-year-old recognized early in his basketball career that he often wasn’t going to be the most athletic player on the floor, forcing him to come up with creative ways to avoid getting shots blocked when he drives into the paint.

“For me, floaters have to be like my layups, because I know I’m not going to go dunk on guys,” Moore said, smiling. “I need to have something where I can get my shot off at any time, if I need to get a bucket. I have teammates who ask me, ‘How do you get the right spin or angle on it?’ Some of it is just feel, something you don’t have to practice all the time. I’ve been shooting floaters since high school and college. It’s something that starts to come naturally.”

Despite many of his field goal attempts being jumpers, Moore has been an efficient offensive player as his career progressed, at 50.8 percent from the field in ’17-18 and 48.1 percent last season, despite nagging injuries during the latter that caused him to miss 29 games. Unlike some players, Moore does not hesitant to fire from the non-analytics-friendly mid-range area, regularly shooting at an above-average rate at that distance. In ’17-18, for example, he shot a scorching 57.4 percent from 3-10 feet (via Basketball Reference).

“If you do anything very well, (teams don’t want to) take your strengths away,” Moore said, alluding to the analytically-based NBA trend to eliminate all mid-range shots. “It’s like Kawhi Leonard, he shot a lot of pull-ups in the playoffs and Toronto won a championship, with him taking a majority of his shots in the mid-range. If you’re hitting anything at a very high percentage, you can keep doing it. There are a lot of guys who don’t make them at a very high percentage, though, so teams will want them to take threes instead (due to the increase in potential point value).”

As it turns out, the NBA’s ever-growing love affair with three-point shots isn’t the only trend that’s benefited Moore during this decade. The 6-foot-4 wing has also seen his minutes increase as more teams opt to use smaller, quicker lineups. During New Orleans’ second-half surge in ’17-18 and run to Round 2 of the Western Conference playoffs, Moore started all nine postseason games at forward. A 6-4 player doing that a decade ago was probably unthinkable, but the NBA has been steadily downsizing lineup-wise. That’s been bad for slow-footed, lumbering 7-foot centers, but good for skilled players of any size who can shoot, handle the ball and create shots for teammates.

“The trend when I first came into the league was big shooting guards, big wings, but now a lot of teams sometimes have two or three point guards on the court at the same time,” said Moore, himself occasionally a point guard early in his career. “I think the way it is now has definitely helped me out a lot, and it’s a fun way to play.”

Moore has spent most of his time in New Orleans at the small forward spot, but he has ample experience in every perimeter role of an NBA offense, something that’s helped him carve out a larger role, particularly compared to his early-career years with Boston, Orlando and Chicago.

“I work on everything,” he said. “I try to be a Swiss Army knife type of guy, so I work on shooting, ballhandling, trying to be as versatile as possible with my game, because I never know when I’m going to be needed to play any position. That’s helped me be successful in the NBA.”

Although Moore may wish he were drafted earlier when he came into the league, his 55th-pick status in ‘11 is evidence of how hard he to work to cement a long-term NBA job. If that isn’t enough, every time he puts on his jersey, there is another: Moore has worn uniform No. 55 his entire pro career, specifically as a reminder of how late he was selected.

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