Moreland, Buycks seize the day as injury-riddled Pistons give them a shot

Eric Moreland’s defense was a critical element in their win over Houston on Saturday.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – Scores of players head to the NBA’s various summer leagues each year dreaming of a future with any of its 30 teams. The odds against them are long. The odds against two of them landing on the same team and playing pivotal roles in beating one of the handful of legitimate NBA title contenders are astronomical.

The odds of Eric Moreland and Dwight Buycks doing what they did in Saturday night’s 108-101 win over Houston would have been astronomical, at least, if any book could have conjured such a possibility.

Buycks established a career high, scoring 16 points in 22 minutes on just nine shots. He hit 4 of 5 from the 3-point line. Moreland also set a career scoring high with eight points, but it was his impact at the other end that enabled the Pistons to hold the league’s No. 1 ranked offense 14 points under its average. Whenever Chris Paul got off Houston’s bench, Stan Van Gundy rushed Moreland back into the game to prevent Paul from turning the corner, getting into the paint and unleashing havoc on his defense.

Wins come in all shapes and sizes and ultimately it only matters how many you compile. But to the degree that some wins have more carrying power than others, Saturday’s was one of them. For the Pistons to win without four players among the seven Van Gundy expected would be every-game rotation staples – Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Jon Leuer – surely reinforces a team’s self-confidence needed to weather storms like the one now battering them.

“Those are two guys that fought for jobs in Summer League,” Van Gundy said. “That’s what they were doing. They were in Summer League fighting for jobs and now they’re playing the Houston Rockets and playing well and winning a game. Coaches are always just really, really happy for guys like that who have to fight to get an opportunity and then take advantage of that opportunity and play well.”

Moreland hit the jackpot in Orlando last summer, showing up with nothing more than an invitation and leaving less than two weeks later with a partially guaranteed NBA contract and a coveted roster spot with the Pistons. Moreland has become Drummond’s No. 2 since Leuer sprained his ankle on Oct. 31, making the Jan. 10 triggering date to guarantee his contract for the rest of the season a formality.

Buycks is in a more precarious spot as a two-way contract player. He’s limited by that status to 45 days with the Pistons and he’s somewhere around a shade under 30 still left at this point. By the first week of February, the Pistons will have to either convert Buycks to a standard NBA contract or release him. He’ll make it an easy choice if he continues to perform at his current level. In the past four games, Buycks has averaged 10.8 points and made 18 of 34 shots. More critically, the offense has functioned well with Buycks at the point.

“He’s come out and played some great basketball,” Harris said. “Dwight’s a scorer. He’s able to create his own shot and he was able to do that (against Houston). That opens up the floor for a lot of guys. He’s a really good pick-and-roll player, too. When you see guys like that come in with the position they’re in and really embrace that role and take advantage of it, that’s a good thing to see and it shows a lot about him as a player and a person.”

To be sure, while there’s a pressure to perform universal among pro athletes, it’s to a different degree when players like Moreland and Buycks have contract-deadline clocks ticking in their heads. Moreland joked with Buycks about it when he was elevated to the Pistons in the wake of Jackson’s severe ankle sprain.

“I tried to make him nervous. I was like, ‘You’re about to go in, you’re about to go in,’ when he first got here,” Moreland said. “He was like, ‘Man, c’mon, Coach.’ He’s ready. He brings a mentality to this game. He’s a dog out there. We’re all loving Dwight right now. Keep playing like that, man. That’s great.”

The patron saint of Pistons who’ve traveled the path Moreland and Buycks are navigating is Anthony Tolliver, who at 32 is in his 10h NBA season after going undrafted out of Creighton in 2008.

“They’re both young and they’re both energetic,” Tolliver said. “This is awesome that they’re able to contribute to a couple of wins here. Eric’s been doing it pretty much all year. Seeing Dwight succeeding like he is is awesome for me.”

Reggie Bullock is another player who seized opportunity, going from outside the rotation to indispensable starter. He’s also become fast friends with both Moreland and Buycks.

“It’s great to see those two guys and me be able to get an opportunity when we have players down,” he said. “Being able to play well, they continue to build Coach’s trust, putting us out there when a man goes down, having another player step up. And we did it together as a team tonight.”

The Pistons hope for a bit of reinforcement as they head into a week with three more road games. Drummond (bruised ribs) and Johnson (strained hip flexor) are considered day to day. But Jackson and Leuer are out for the foreseeable future, so it remains an all-hands-on-deck forecast. Against all odds, Eric Moreland and Dwight Buycks have shown themselves to be very steady hands.