Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
A Magic team already expected to struggle got dealt a further blow in the first week of the season, when Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu were forced to miss games due to injuries. The only starters remaining from the 2009 Finals team, Nelson and Turkoglu were expected to provide a steadying hand for a roster that is, by and large, unproven.
Turkoglu’s broken hand is the more serious of their two injuries, and is expected to keep the veteran forward out at least a month.
Nelson is suffering a strained groin and hamstring, and should be back shortly. But in his absence, a pleasant surprise has emerged for the Magic in the form of E’Twaun Moore.
Moore’s contributions so far have been as unlikely as anyone’s on this young Orlando team that has shockingly started the season 2-0. A late second-round pick of the Celtics in 2011, he struggled to get consistent minutes in Boston, although he played well at times when he did. Ironically enough, his breakout game in his rookie season came against the Magic last January, when he drilled four three-pointers and scored 16 points.
But Moore was dealt this summer to Houston as a throw-in for the Courtney Lee sign-and-trade and waived by the Rockets, then signed by the Magic. Even for a rebuilding team like Orlando, he was never expected to play more than reserve minutes.
His first start came on Sunday, with Nelson sitting out, and he certainly made the argument that he deserves a shot at more consistent playing time going forward. He nailed all three of his three-point attempts, and along with Arron Afflalo, was one of the key contributors in the Magic’s remarkable comeback win over the Suns. In addition to his 15 points, he finished with six assists and showed the ability to attack the rim as well as shoot from long range. His three steals were key to a comeback effort that relied heavily on Phoenix coughing the ball up.
It’s difficult to extrapolate one game out into sustained production, especially when it came against a middling-at-best team like the Suns. And Moore’s game was not perfect. He had three turnovers, which contributed to the Magic’s early deficit. He shot poorly from midrange as well. He was perfect in his two layup attempts and three three-point attempts but shot 1-for-6 from everywhere else on the floor, per Hoopdata.
The breakdown looked somewhat different in his first game against the Nuggets, when he played 24 minutes backing up Nelson. He shot 1-for-3 on threes in that game and 4-for-6 from midrange.
It’s too early to know where Moore’s strengths and weaknesses will be in the Magic’s offense, but it’s encouraging that he’s finding different ways to score depending on the situations he’s in.
Moore will get his second start tonight, with Nelson still sidelined. Once Nelson returns, Moore will undoubtedly move back to his reserve role. But he’s played well enough to start the season that the Magic can feel comfortable handing him the keys to the second unit, for now. And if he keeps playing well, it’s not impossible to imagine him starting more games, either after Nelson gets hurt again or once the season has progressed past this surprising start and the team moves back into tank mode.
Following a team with nothing to play for in the immediate future is difficult, but small triumphs like the emergence of an unexpected contributor can be a silver lining.