Eric Moreland was a pleasant surprise for most in last year's NBA Summer League. The undrafted Oregon State product displayed solid defense, which led to some impressive blocks. He let whatever offense he could muster come to him and seemed to understand his role on a Summer League championship Kings squad that featured five roster players.
He played in six games and averaged 3.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. Plays like these sparked some interest.
The Kings liked what they saw so much that he was signed to a three-year contract.
Moreland, buried behind a veteran rotation of bigs on the Kings last season, spent some time with the Reno Bighorns where he averaged 13.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in seven games. But an injury that originally occurred in the Kings Summer League game against the D-League Select team kept nagging him.
"I'd do a reverse layup and my shoulder would come out. Ra'Shad James would throw an alley to me and my shoulder would come out; I'd pop it back in," Moreland said of his time with the Bighorns. "I got used to it so I would just put it back in and manage to play like that. But certain stuff like doing reverse layups and not being able to get rebounds and can't block shots with my left hand, it really did suck."
Moreland was forced into surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in early January.
Largely unproven in the NBA, the 6'10'' forward has a love for the game and is fueled by people "sleeping on him," he said. So he was frustrated by not being able practice, participate in games and prove himself as a rookie last season.
Seven months later, he says he is 100 percent and ready to get back on the floor and defend the Kings Las Vegas Summer League title. Moreland will be part of a large and defensively stout front court that also features Kings draft pick Willie Cauley-Stein, who averaged 1.8 blocks for the Kentucky Wildcats last season, and 7'5'', 360-pound Sim Bhullar. Moreland, who has a 7-foot-4 wingspan, worked out with Cauley-Stein Tuesday in the team's mini-camp and called him long, athletic and a hard worker who he can't wait to play with.
I asked him what he expects out of that Summer League front court.
"Sim was giving Willie problems today, blocking his stuff four times, so Sim is really fun to play with, and Willie as well. We all like to get after it on the blocks, I don't even think Sim has to jump, so that'll be really fun ... the paint will pretty much be protected," said Moreland, who was a two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive Honorable Mention in college.
Despite the injury, Moreland has soaked up what he could from being around one of the "best players" he has "ever seen in person," in DeMarcus Cousins, gleaning how patient the All-Star is under the basket offensively. Kings head coach George Karl expects hustle and a lot of running the floor out of Moreland. Moreland has picked up on how Karl wants "all his bigs running," playing simple basketball with few plays called and smart decisions made through the dribble-drive offense and proper spacing.
Moreland knows he has a ways to go - he only has two minutes of real NBA experience off the bench in three games, after all. And with Cousins, Kosta Koufos and Cauley-Stein likely to be the main bigs for the Kings next season and a full summer ahead with the potential for roster additions, there is no certainty he will make it into the rotation. But all he is focused on right now is playing basketball again with a functional shoulder, proving himself and defending the Summer League title.
Here's what he said fans should expect come Friday when the Kings tip off their first Summer League game against the Toronto Raptors.
"An upgraded Eric Moreland from last year. I think they'll like what they see. I don't want to speak too much on it, but just see me on Friday," Moreland said.