Three quarters into their latest Smoothie King Center trip, the Houston Rockets appeared ready to rain on the parade of the surging Pelicans. Despite the absences of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela, their three best players on most nights, the Rockets found themselves up seven with 12 minutes to go. But once E’Twaun Moore moved his eyes upward, the tides turned New Orleans’ way for good.
“In the fourth quarter, I saw the score and was like ‘yeah, we have to pick it up,’” said the 30-year-old guard after the game. “So it was good to make some shots and help us build a lead.”
Is Moore implying that he doesn’t acknowledge the score before the fourth quarter begins? Probably not, but it does raise the question of how easy it is for players to see the exact situation from the court. Are their good sight lines on the ticker wrapping around the stands? Is it possible to get a good look at the jumbotron from directly beneath it? How much does this vary from arena to arena?
Nevertheless, once Moore knew his team trailed by seven and wisely willed his teammates to “pick it up,” they did. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say of Moore’s contributions, which included 14 of the Pelicans’ 41 points in the period, what the man himself called them: good. The result was a suddenly dominant 127-112 victory and the extension of a winning streak that stretched to a season-long four games. The +22 they put up on the Rockets in the fourth quarter was uniquely superb, but a string of strong showings in the final dozen minutes of regulation have been pivotal to putting the Pelicans back on a winning track that weaved through Denver and Portland before circling back to the Smoothie King Center.
Moore isn’t the only common denominator in these performances, but he’s certainly been one of them. After riding the pine for the final seven games of the Pelicans’ 13-game skid, he’s been back in action for the previous six contests and has averaged nearly 23 minutes per game in the last four. That playing time includes over nine minutes of fourth-quarter action per game, during which he’s scored nearly half (26) of his 59 total points. Moore’s game has never been flashy, but he’s provided the substance and execution the Pelicans have desperately needed to get over the hump.
For as much as he loves his patented floater, Moore’s knack for sliding into open three-point space has been the most prominent aspect of his shot profile this season. His 41.1 percent three-point rate is a career high, and he’s taken them all over the floor:
The first clip typifies the sort of fast-break behavior that drives basketball traditionalists mad, but it’s a perfect example of Moore finding his spots. Save for the occasional razzle-dazzle, he isn’t one to try and create his own shot off the dribble, especially from three-point land. Through December 31, 91.4 percent of his threes have been assisted, and his availability on fast breaks has been a key contributor to that total.
It’s easier to find that sort of space when half of the players are on the other side of the court, but Moore can find space in the halfcourt offense too. As the ball rattles around the floor after his own mid-ranged attempt in the second clip, Moore realizes that his man, whether it be Chris Clemons or Eric Gordon, is preoccupied, and appropriately sneaks into the wide-open corner.
His 43.2 three-point percentage matches the mark he boasted last season and is ninth-best among players who’ve shot at least 80 long-ranged shots this season. When his shot goes cold and his outlet or alley-oop passes teeter on disaster, it can be easy to ask why he continues to get playing time over a young player like Nickeil Alexander-Walker. It’s a valid question! But the answer is his ability to simplify his game, find space amidst the chaos of a broken play or a fast break and knock down shots, a skill well-suited for the up-tempo scheme that Alvin Gentry wants in a complementary wing.
The following clip and the previous two were from the same two-minute stretch in the latest contest against the Rockets in which Moore knocked down four straight threes to turn the tides of the game. By game’s end, Moore had boosted his fourth-quarter three-point percentage to 66.7 percent over the four-game winning streak. Sure, that’s only a 12-shot sample, but the fact of the matter is that when the Pelicans have needed a bucket, the team’s second-oldest player has come through.
When the rubber meets the road, a team that relies on a role player like E’Twaun Moore staying hot throughout the course of a season likely won’t accomplish much. However, he’s not employed to put the rest of the roster on his back on a regular basis. Rather, he’s asked to occasionally pick up the slack left by the team’s core contributors, which was most recently present in the form of an 0-11 combined effort from the field from JJ Redick and Josh Hart.
Teams will often go as far as their two or three best players will take them. The same can be said of the Pelicans, whose success this year depends in large part on Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and, eventually, Zion Williamson. While that group may not yet have the star power necessary to match up with the league’s elite on a regular basis, the supportive presence of Redick, Hart, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors, Jaxson Hayes and Moore is more than most trios in the back half of the Western Conference can rely on. Hopefully Moore won’t have to bear as much responsibility as he has during this most recent stretch, but the fact that he’s been able to do so at all could wind up being the difference in what will likely shape up to be a tight race for the eighth seed.