On November 15th, the top thing on Zach Lowe’s 10 things was “The E’Twaun Moore-Anthony Davis floater game, and the 15 percenters”. It focused on Moore’s floater: how incredible he had been so far this year, building off his incredible rate last year, and how effective Moore’s floater was at creating space for Davis. His clips were of the Pels win against the then league-leading Raptors, and Pels fans talked about whether they should give up Moore in any hypothetical deal for Bradley Beal (which of course they should but that’s a separate conversation). Lowe ended his section by saying that teams could pay for 85% of Moore’s production but that player likely wouldn’t play in the playoffs.
As I’ve watched the Pels over the past month, one question has nagged at me – would the current version of E’Twaun play in the playoffs?
It’s not hard to make the point that E’Twaun was the player who benefited the most after Boogie’s injury and the addition of Mirotic last year–in terms of reputation in addition to production. The Pelicans switched to a more open, fast-paced offense and Moore thrived. As the 4th option during the run to the playoffs, Moore had an effective field goal percentage of 55.9%. But that undersells what Moore excelled at – getting into the lane in the space that Mirotic and Davis left and using his floater or finishing at the rim. Moore shot 53% on his shots in the paint or the restricted area after February 1st. And 40% of the time, Moore was unassisted on his 2-pointers, which caused chaos on other team’s defenses as they scrambled to cover Moore driving and kicking.
During this stretch, Moore’s offensive production as a fourth option more than made up for the fact that he is severely undersized to play small forward. At 6’4”, Moore was always going to struggle going up against a good wing. Against the Blazers, Moore was able to sag off Al-Farouq Aminu to challenge Aminu to beat the Pels. Against the Warriors, there was no place for Moore to hide and the Pels got roasted. Going into this season, the Pels knew they would need more depth at the wing but I think everyone felt confident that with Moore at the 3 the offense would work.
For the first 2 months of the year, the offense did work and Moore was a big reason why. Moore went up to 15 points per game, up from 12 during the last year’s stretch run. He had an EFG% of 59.4% through November 30th, a truly elite shooter in the mid-90th percentile for a wing. Moore was getting to the lane another 1.5 times per game and finishing even better, up to 57% on all shots in the paint and restricted area. He also was shooting an absurd 51% on above the break threes. When he was on, the Pels offense clicked and Moore notched several 30 point games.
At the turn of December, Moore slumped. Then Mirotic got hurt. Moore missed Monday’s game against Memphis but with Mirotic coming back soon (maybe even this week), this may be a chance to reset. Moore needs it to be.
Since the beginning of December, Moore has fallen off a cliff and the Pelicans have too. Moore is down to 9.8 points on 47% EFG. He’s taking 2 less shots per game but even that does not tell the whole story. E’Twaun is taking just shy of 5 shots per game in the paint and restricted area, down from 7.5 per game to start the year, and his effectiveness on these shots has plummeted down to 46%. He’s also taking more shots from the mid-range and making a paltry 27%(!).
Not surprisingly, this drop-off has coincided with Niko’s absence following his injury on December 10th against the Celtics. Niko’s absence has definitely been felt with the Pels going 5-11 since he got hurt. If Moore was the biggest beneficiary of Niko joining the team last year, he has been the one most negatively impacted by Niko missing time. The Pels had a net rating of 1.7 with Niko and Moore on the court, and that increased to 4.0 when they were on the court without Randle. The team does play well with Randle and Moore without Niko, a pretty elite 7.0 net rating. But that’s driven by an offensive rating of 120.7 (98th percentile per CTG) and not the abysmal defensive rating of 113.8 (16th percentile) that is not sustainable for a team hoping to make the playoffs.
When the Pelicans offense flows, Moore gets into the paint with ease and is able to use his floater or create better looks for teammates. Since December 1st, Moore been unassisted on his 2-pointers on 19% of his attempts, way down from the 35% it was at the beginning of the year. This has been the biggest change in E’Twaun’s game and part of his disappearance. Or to put it another way, since December 1st the Pelicans have seen what it looks like to get 85% of E’Twaun. Maybe this changes as Niko gets re-integrated into the team, but the current picture is a player not good enough for the playoffs and a team on the outside looking in.
All stats are from nba.com and cleaningtheglass.com