After playing for three teams in his first four seasons and earning the veteran’s minimum in each of those years, E’Twaun Moore has finally made it with New Orleans. Back in 2016, he inked a four-year deal worth $34 million with the Pelicans that’s provided him financial security. And since signing that contract, he’s played the best basketball of his career.
In his second season with New Orleans, Moore is averaging a career-high 12.3 points while shooting an incredibly efficient 50.6 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point range (on 3.8 attempts per game, which is also a career-high). He ranks sixth in the NBA in three-point percentage among those with as many long-distance attempts.
Moore, who just turned 29 years old earlier this week, has emerged as an important piece for the Pelicans, who currently sit in the Western Conference’s fifth seed but are just 1.5 games back from jumping to third. While Anthony Davis has been posting monster numbers all season (and particularly in February), Moore and Jrue Holiday are the team’s top perimeter scorers.
HoopsHype caught up with Moore to discuss his breakout success in New Orleans, what it’s like playing with a dominant superstar like Davis, the unfortunate season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins, how one’s life changes when they get a big payday and guaranteed stability, and much more.
People may not know this, but you were the No. 55 pick in the 2011 NBA draft. You’re a second-round success story, but you had to bounce around a bit before becoming a full-time starter with the Pelicans. How far have you come as a player from when you entered the league seven years ago to now?
E’Twaun Moore: Ah man, I’ve definitely come a long way. When I first came in, I wasn’t playing very much. And with second-round picks, especially late second-round picks, a lot of guys in that position don’t make it [to the league at all] and very few have a long NBA career. So for me to still be here in my seventh season and being a key contributor on my team, it’s big.
What did you make of the trade to acquire Nikola Mirotic from the Chicago Bulls and what has he brought to the team?
EM: It was a good move because Niko brings a lot to the table. First of all, he can shoot, which gives another outside threat. Guys always have to respect his shot and they don’t really want to help off of him much, so that definitely opens things up for us. He’s a pretty good rebounder too. I think he’s an underrated rebounder. He’s someone who can get us some extra possessions. I think he’s a big boost for us.
You’re shooting nearly 43 percent from three-point range this season on nearly four attempts per game. You’ve always been a good shooter, but this puts you up there with the league’s elite in terms of your percentage. What was the biggest key to becoming a knockdown shooter?
EM: I think a lot of it the guys I’m playing with. Playing with [Rajon] Rondo, he’s always looking for me and trying to get me open looks. And when you’re playing with Jrue [Holiday] and Anthony Davis, those guys draw a lot of attention away from me. They get me a lot of open shots because there are a lot of times when defenders go double them, and then it’s just on me to make my shots. That helps the offense out and keeps the defense honest.
Let’s talk about Anthony Davis because it doesn’t seem like he’s from this planet. What’s it like to play alongside him and how much easier does he make your job?
EM: Oh man, it’s crazy. First of all, it’s just fun. It’s really fun to play with him. He’s almost like a video-game character with all of the things he can do – shoot threes, dunk on people, finish alley-oops, block shots, everything. It’s exciting to watch him play. He definitely makes the game easier for all of us. It’s hard, or almost impossible, for guys to guard him one-on-one so someone always comes over to help and, like I said before, that gets us so many easy shots. He’s a great, great player.
Before DeMarcus Cousins sustained his season-ending Achilles injury, there were nights when they would both go off and their combined stat line was just insane. From the limited time you got play with those two All-Stars, what was that like? And with DeMarcus entering free agency after this season, how hopeful are you that we’ll get to see that duo again?
EM: It was really exciting to see those two guys play together. That’s the best power forward in the league and the best center in the league, in my opinion, so it was so exciting seeing them on the floor together. It was great for us and with a frontcourt like that, we went into every game feeling like we had a huge mismatch. It was definitely a lot of fun. If [DeMarcus] comes back, that would be great. I really want to see those guys back together again because I think we could put together a really good run. If both of those guys are healthy for the whole season and postseason, I think we’d be really hard to stop.
Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo are such different players, but they’ve both been All-Stars and had a lot of success in the league. What has it been like playing alongside those guys and learning from them at the same time?
EM: Playing with those guys has been great. You know, Jrue is more of a scorer whereas Rondo is more of a distributor, but anytime we’re playing together – and sometimes it’s all three of us on the court – we always find ways to feed off of each other. Whether it’s cutting to the basket, finding guys for open shots, driving and kicking or whatever, we’re always helping each other out and complementing each other. We’re able to play a lot faster when we’re all out there too. We’ve all jelled really well together and I think the three of us are a great fit.
You have two more years remaining on your contract after this season because you signed a $34 million deal in 2016. Earlier in your career, you didn’t have that kind of job security since you were on short, minimum deals. How much easier is to just focus on playing your game when you don’t have to worry about getting cut and you’re financially secure as well?
EM: Oh yeah, it’s totally different. I don’t care what anyone else says, it’s definitely a lot easier. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. You aren’t constantly looking over your shoulder. You aren’t worrying if you’re going to have a place to play [down the road]. You know your role and you have security, so you can just focus on getting better with your playing time and helping your team. I definitely think it’s a lot easier once you sign that kind of contract.
You’ve played in a number of cities and now you’re in New Orleans. I always joke that I couldn’t live in New Orleans because I’d gain way too much weight and get way too little sleep. I love it, but I don’t trust myself to live there. How are you liking NOLA?
EM: It’s pretty cool. First of all, like you said, the food is amazing. I think they have some of the best food in the entire country. The people here are great too. I’ve met a ton of nice, genuine people who will talk to you and make you feel comfortable. Their celebrations and traditions are outstanding too. When they celebrated Halloween, they went all-out. During Mardi Gras, everyone is partying and having fun. I think there’s so much excitement in the city, and that’s not even including the sports teams. But they love their teams and are really passionate too, so my experience here has been amazing.
As I mentioned, you bounced around a bit before landing in New Orleans. You played one season with the Boston Celtics, two seasons with the Orlando Magic and two seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Who were some of the veterans who helped you and looked out for you early on in your career?
EM: There were a bunch. First of all, Jameer Nelson is definitely a vet who helped me a lot. I learned so much from him. I was able to play with him again this year for a bit, but he really helped me when we were in Orlando and I was in my second season in the NBA. On the court, he’d help with little things and show me what to look for. He also showed me how to play and cut off-ball.
During my rookie year in Boston, I definitely learned a lot from Rajon Rondo. And, just like with Jameer, we’re teammates again this year. But yeah, Rondo helped me a lot and I also learned a ton from Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Keyon Dooling too. Keyon had a ton of knowledge and he was always letting me pick his brain and ask him questions. I learned a lot from all of those guys.
Emeka Okafor recently joined you guys and not only is he on the roster, he’s actually started five games. I think a lot of people are intrigued and want to see what he can do since he hasn’t played in the NBA since it’s been four years since he was last in the NBA. What have you seen from him behind-the-scenes in practice and workouts?
EM: He looks good. He’s a vet and even though he hasn’t played in four years, he has that knowledge of the game. He knows the right way to play. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is just that he plays extremely hard on every single possession. He hangs his hat on that, leaving everything on the court. He’s brought toughness and he’s just relentless out there.