At this time last year, JJ Moore felt like he was reaching the kind of basketball purgatory that most ballers have ongoing nightmares about. Just two years after ending his solid but yet unspectacular college career spent at Pittsburgh and Rutgers, Moore was spending his second year playing in Mexico with nearly no upward momentum in front of him.
Although most NBA or elite European squads don’t necessarily go crazy for a player that averaged 7.9 points and 2.6 rebounds on 43% shooting during their college career, Moore thought he deserved better than playing in a league that didn’t even have their own website.
Moore’s dismay was evident from the following quote in a November 2016 interview with Newsday:
Luckily, Moore’s career rejuvenation came from one of his workout buddies, Nick Frank, who recommended that the young forward join him for an off-season tryout with the Long Island Nets. While Frank looked like your typical rec league warrior, Moore stood out as arguably the best player out of the 150+ participants.
That statement isn’t hyperbole as Moore felt very confident after leaving that tryout. “Going into that tryout there was about 250 guys but about 50 of them were at the same caliber as me,” Moore told Ridiculous Upside in a recent interview. “So I knew I was going to have some good competition and battles that day. In my head, I was confident in playing in playing at my highest level. So me going out there competing and making no mistakes made me feel like I belonged on the team.“
Another person that came away from that tryout as a supporter of Moore was Long Island GM Trajan Langdon. “I didn’t know really anything from his college. I didn’t know he played in Mexico. We wanted him because of what we saw at that tryout,” Langdon said in an interview with Newsday. “We look at his physique and think he can be a physical player. We liked his toughness and attitude at that tryout. He just showed a passion about being there.”
While the Nets were clearly interested in bringing Moore on board, they still decided to take the risk of letting him enter the NBADL Draft rather than just signing for training camp. That risk luckily worked out for the Nets as they were able to draft Moore with their 3rd round pick.
Flash forward to the present day where Moore has stood out as one of the more positive surprises of this D-League season. In 39 games with the Nets, Moore has averaged 13.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 steal on 49% from the field in only 25 minutes per game. Although those numbers may seem for an unknown prospect that spent his prior two seasons in Mexico, they look pedestrian to what Moore has been able to do in recent weeks.
Since the start of February, Moore has averaged 18 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals on 49% from the field in 29 minutes per game. Those averages pushed Moore to be the 10th highest scoring forward during that period of time. Moore’s solid scoring numbers comes due to his tenacity as a cutter.
Whether he’s working on or off-ball, Moore seems to be able to just make it to the paint whenever he desires. He’s able to do that by combining his strong 215 pound frame with solid quickness and athleticism. Those traits has allowed Moore to shoot 66% from inside the restricted area, well above league average. An example of Moore’s work from around the rim is seen from the play below.
Another way that Moore has been able to make an impact inside the paint is through his work on the offensive glass. In a similar way to how he dominates as a cutter, Moore does a nice job of using his strong build to box out the opposition to get in the position necessary to grab an offensive board. Moore’s terrific effort has allowed him to average 2.1 offensive boards per game.
While he’s been able to stand out as a cutter and offensive rebounder, Moore has had his struggles when we transition from the paint to the perimeter. On 4.1 perimeter attempts per game, Moore has shot 31% from beyond the arc since February.
Those perimeter woes actually surprises me due to Moore being very confident in his jumper. That confidence is warranted as Moore maintains a pretty solid stroke that’s smooth and finishes with a high release. Coinciding with that, Moore has been an outstanding mid-range shooter as he’s shooting 58% from between 16-24 feet.
Nearly one year removed from being in basketball purgatory, Moore has evolved into being one of the best forwards in the NBA D-League. Does he still stand as a work in progress? Absolutely. But Moore’s quick progression from unknown tryout player into being an elite D-League forward is something to really marvel at. As we get closer to the start of the off-season, Moore stands as a player that any basketball fans should keep their eyes on because there’s no telling what JJ Moore can do next.