Rookie Eric Moreland nears return to normalcy
When Eric Moreland squints, he can see light at the end of the tunnel. The Sacramento Kings forward is healing well from a torn left labrum which shelved him in December.
“I’d probably say I’m 75 percent, 80. It’s been about four months post-op, so I’m coming along and I’m feeling pretty good,” Moreland told Cowbell Kingdom in mid-April.
The rookie from Oregon State initially injured his shoulder over the summer, and he played through it in the fall to earn a Kings roster spot as an undrafted free agent. On assignment with the Reno Bighorns for most of the early season, Moreland averaged 13.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks in seven D-League appearances. He made three NBA cameos this season, totaling a layup, rebound and personal foul in two minutes and five seconds of action.
By the time Moreland decided to shut his season down, the pain was overwhelming. His familiarity with the injury on his non-shooting arm gave him confidence to play on, but long-term health was a bigger priority.
“I’ve had the same surgery before in my freshman year of college,” Moreland recalled. “Tore the shoulder, and then I re-tore it again in Summer League, so I’ve had this before. I just got to bounce back from it, and here (the rehab is) way more professional so I’m sure I’ll come back a lot stronger.”
A month ago, Moreland started one-on-one work with Kings assistant coaches after practices. But he has yet to perform any contact drills. Coaches are often used as soft props or ghost defenders when Moreland refines his post moves.
“Right now I do the script with the team,” he noted. “But contact is still not till the end of May, just for the safe side. There’s no pain or anything, it’s just for the safe side. Continue to strengthen it, because rebounding, externally rotating, you don’t want to get yanked on right now. So just continuing to strengthen it and no contact right now, but I can do everything else.”
Unfortunately for Moreland, “no contact” includes competitive basketball of any kind. The 23-year-old and respected teammate continued to attend Kings games following his season-ending surgery, but it was far from a pleasant experience.
“I’m so antsy,” Moreland admitted. “It’s been hard watching. I want to get out there and let a lot of energy out. So it’s hard, but it’s a blessing in disguise. I’m getting stronger and I’m also learning. Seeing what George Karl wants, listening in on everything he wants, and also working on my body.”
Adding muscle will be key for Moreland’s pro success. At 6-foot-10 and 218 pounds, the athlete is too light to play center and a less-than-ideal match against burly fours.
Yet at his best and full health, Moreland is an intriguing NBA prospect. The bouncy big with a 7-foot-4 wingspan is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker who is alert enough to avoid fouls. On offense, Moreland lacks a jumper, but he is fearless attacking the rim off one or two dribbles and follows up for second chances regularly.
Moreland is on track to play this year’s Summer League. Even with two years left on his deal, he’ll have to re-earn his place in Sacramento, but it’s hard to doubt someone who’s already cleared so many hurdles.