Eric Moreland swats his way into NBA conversation

Eric Moreland of the Wizards. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Unlike past seasons, the Sacramento Kings came into Las Vegas Summer League this year with a roster filled with NBA talent.  Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Ray McCallum, MarShon Brooks and Quincy Acy are the team’s headliners and for the most part, they have performed well.  But it is a relative unknown that is quietly stealing the show.

He may be averaging just four points per contest, but rookie forward Eric Moreland is making a huge difference for Sacramento as it cuts through tournament play.  Standing at 6-foot-10 and possessing a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Moreland is a prototypical rim protector.

“I can’t even tell you that I know how to shot block,” Moreland said.  “I just want it.  Every time they go up, I want to block their shot.”

After three full seasons at Oregon State, Moreland went unselected in this year’s draft despite averaging more than 10 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.  He joined Sacramento as a free agent for the summer league, but with an eye on finding a long-term home with the club.

While his motor has been called into question in the past, that is not what the Kings have seen.  The 22-year-old is averaging 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 19 minutes per game in Las Vegas and turning heads with his enthusiastic play.

“It’s a tremendous thing to watch a guy just play with a lot of energy like he has,” new Kings assistant coach Tyrone Corbin said of the lanky forward out of Corvallis.

Sacramento has been looking for a live body like Moreland’s for a while.  One of the major needs coming into the offseason for Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro has been to find a rim protector.  Moreland is a long way from staking claim to the job, but he is quickly winning over his teammates.

“Moreland’s played extremely well for us,” guard Ray McCallum said.  “He’s gotten better each and every day, each and every game. He works extremely hard.  He’s been great on the defensive end and his offensive game is coming around, as well.  It’s been fun to see him grow.”

Built in the mold of former NBA defenseman Theo Ratliff, Moreland has shown an ability to block shots in a variety of ways. Despite his lean, 225-pound frame, he’s held his own as a post defender and picked up multiple blocks in isolation settings.  But, he has also come free as a help defender and picked up weakside blocks, too.

In Saturday’s blowout win over the Chicago Bulls, Moreland finished with three blocks, including a major stuff on Chad Posthumus on a fallaway jumper in the key.  But the former Beaver star turned major heads with his two-handed roofing of the high-flying Lance Thomas on a defensive switch.

“I love the two-hand block; it’s like my signature thing,” Moreland said.

Who doesn’t love a young defender with a signature move?

Moreland is a long way from making an NBA roster, but he has a skill the Kings desperately need.  During his five-game stint in Las Vegas, he has showed a willingness to play a role and do the dirty work for the Kings summer league team.  He will need to do more of the same if he hopes to land an NBA regular-season paycheck come November.

For now, Moreland is a good summer league success story.  He has gone from undrafted rookie free agent to a player getting multiple phone calls for the upcoming season.  He will take time to develop and he may never be more than a rebounding, shot-blocking big.  But, the Kings may have found a diamond in the rough in the sweltering heat of Las Vegas.

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