When Reggie Moore made his triumphant debut to a standing ovation about five minutes into the Kansas State game on Dec. 4, we all had visions of the offense transforming into multi-faceted attack that would be lethal to any opposing defense daring to stand in its way.
I mean, WSU already had the deadliest collection of shooters on the West Coast* -- adding Moore to that mix, with his ability to penetrate and either finish at the rim or dish to an open teammate, would make the game almost unfair.
*Remember, I'm talking about December, when that was what we thought we had. But I digress.
Of course, that's not at all how it played out. We didn't get back the Moore of old -- instead, we received a tentative version who was a shell of his former playmaking self. Reckless attacks were replaced by tentative forays that too often resulted in missed layups or turnovers as he tried to protect his damaged wrist.
This isn't a criticism of Moore. None of us know how much that wrist was hurting, and none of us can understand what it must be like to be concerned about an injury that could potentially impact your professional prospects. I'll even go so far as to say that the problem was actually with us -- we just expected too much, too soon, from a player coming off an injury.
It might have taken longer than we expected, but the 2010 version of Reggie Moore has finally made his appearance in 2011.
Statistically speaking, 2010 Reggie Moore was characterized by one outstanding attribute: His ability to get to the free throw line. His free throw rate (FTA / FGA) was 26th nationally at 76.4 percent. But up until the last three games, Moore's 2011 free throw rate had been just 47.0 percent.
But oh, those last three games.
Something clicked for Moore against UW. I won't say he played harder against the Huskies, but sometimes athletes have an extra special level of focus for certain opponents, and UW seems to be that one for Moore, who as you all know is from Seattle. He counts Isaiah Thomas a friend, and there's a lot of pride on the line when he plays Washington -- the team he really wanted to play for coming out of high school.
The result was Moore's breakout performance of the year: 18 points, five assists. But even more important than that was how Moore scored his points. He needed only eight shots to pile up those 18 points because he made 9 of 10 free throws. For the first time all year, Moore looked confident driving to the rim -- like he wasn't worried about falling down, or getting hit too hard over the wrist. He had that determination we came to love during his freshman season, and it paid off in spades.
It didn't stop there. For as horrendous as the all-around offensive performance was against Oregon, Moore shot another eight free throws against his eight shots. And while his ratio wasn't quite as gaudy against Oregon State (7 FTA, 13 FGA), it still was an improvement on his season numbers. His FTR over the last three games is 86.2, and he's raised his season FTR to 55.8.
Three games isn't much of a sample size, statistically speaking, but my eyes are telling me that there's something different about Moore. That, for the first time, he's not playing to protect his wrist.
We lamented the state of the offense at length a couple of weeks ago. The fact remains that Moore still has the ability to truly transform this offense. If these last three games are more than a fluke, this team might just be primed for an offensive explosion over the final seven games. And with the way the defense has been playing, that just might be enough to ignite a winning streak.
Welcome back, Reggie Moore. We missed you.