Moses Moody feels at home in NBA playoffs while always staying ready

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Moses Moody is catching his breath. Sweat falls from his forehead, dripping off his mustache and down to the hardwood at FedExForum.

The Warriors rookie was the last player on the court during shootaround ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 5 showdown with the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals. He went through a grueling workout where he would jog in from halfcourt, gather to catch a pass from assistant coach Jama Mahlalela for a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, followed by a dribble-handoff from Mahlalela where Moody was to attack the hoop with Mychel Thompson — the older brother of Klay Thompson — waiting to disrupt his path. The drill continued with a corner 3-pointer immediately after a contested layup or dunk, and it ended with two free throws.

Both shots at the charity stripe had to go down or else it was time to start over. Miss the first one, and the drill goes back to the top. Make the first and miss the second, and an exhausted Moody knew what that meant.

After a handful of tries, Moody completed the trip around the court and put an exclamation mark on it with a windmill dunk — catching his own pass off the glass and throwing it down. The work still wasn’t done.

Mahlalela sent him back to seven different spots along the 3-point line, pushing him to hit multiple shots at each destination before he could take a seat on the sidelines.

“He’s been that consistency,” Moody said to me in an exclusive interview Wednesday with NBC Sports Bay Area when asked about Mahlalela. “He’s been there since I got here to the league in the summertime. I’ve been working with him consistently. He’s been an anchor.

“Somebody I can come to talk to, workout with every day. He’s been everything.”

Moody has played just over 12-and-a-half minutes through the Warriors’ first nine playoff games. He was given a handful of minutes in Golden State’s first two blowout wins over the Denver Nuggets in the first round, and the same goes with the Warriors’ 30-point blowout win against the Grizzlies in Game 3 of the semifinals. When he was thrown in for the final four-plus minutes of that dominant victory, he didn’t take a single second for granted in front of the home fans.

With the game out of reach for the Grizzlies, Moody says he didn’t have more nerves than usual. Even his emphatic slam was nothing out of the ordinary to the first-year pro.

Still, no matter how even-keel he might be, it’s easy to get excited with the production he put up in limited minutes. Just four days ago, he scored five points, went 2-for-3 from the field, made his only 3-point attempt and grabbed a rebound for good measure, along with that huge dunk. Though his playing time has been scarce, this is where Moody feels at home.

In the playoffs, under the bright lights with the pressure turned up — that’s what he plays for and what he prepares for on a daily basis.

“It’s been different. It’s been a lot different from the regular season,” Moody said of his first taste of the playoffs. “But me being a young guy, I feel like I’ve played in a lot of intense environments, intense games and that’s more of what I’m accustomed to.

“Coming in and being in a playoff environment feels almost more normal, having every play matter, guys diving on the floor because that’s how I play. That’s how a lot of my people I’ve been around play. This just seems more normal for me, more normal basketball.”

His freshman year of high school, the Little Rock native led Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School to the state championship game. He transferred to North Little Rock his sophomore year and won the state title there. For his junior and senior seasons, he moved to Florida to attend powerhouse Montverde Academy. They were the consensus no. 1 high school team in the country with a perfect 25-0 record in his senior year.

As one of the top high school recruits, Moody went back home to Arkansas where he averaged 16.8 points per game and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. From high school glory to his success in one of the best college basketball conferences and then becoming a lottery pick, Moody’s path looks paved with clear skies ahead.

That isn’t always the case, though. On a team full of veterans and superstars with championship aspirations, Moody has had to wait his turn and put on a show in the few G League games he joined the Santa Cruz Warriors for. Through it all, he has stayed ready — mentally and physically — for when his number might be called.

“Looking at it now that I’ve made it through, everything I’ve been through when it comes to basketball, it looks like it’s been a smooth road from Montverde to Arkansas to here, but it hasn’t,” Moody said. “It’s been a lot of situations to where I got to fight through a lot, figure out a lot. So it’s something I’m accustomed to, something I’ve been through. People say, ‘Stay ready’ all the time and that’s a consistent thing and it sounds simple, but it’s not.

“Staying ready means putting in the work when you’re not playing. Mentally staying on your toes, keeping your guard up. Even on the bench, you can’t just relax at any point. You got to stay ready even though you’ re probably not gonna play. You still got to stay ready.

“So that’s a lot, that’s not easy to do. But that all goes into that stay-ready mentality.”

Moody knew the situation he was getting into the moment the Warriors called his name when they were on the clock with the No. 14 pick in last year’s NBA draft. He couldn’t compare himself to others who might get more minutes and have bigger numbers in the box score on teams that didn’t win at the clip the Warriors do. The same goes for his good friend and teammate Jonathan Kumingawho has started the last two playoff games for the Warriors and became the youngest player ever to do so in Game 3 at 19 years and 213 days old.

He’s more than happy for Kuminga, and revels in his success.

“Nah, comparison’s the thief of joy,” Moody says when asked if Kuminga’s playing time makes him more eager to get on the court. “To each his own. My story’s my story. I’m just gonna focus on that.”

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It’s easy to forget that just like Kuminga, Moody also still is a teenager, turning 20 at the end of May. Sitting down with him for just a few minutes feels like a conversation with a seasoned vet.

Teammates and coaches alike have praised him all season long for his work ethic and maturity. The most influential voices on the warriors have been the loudest in support of Moody, and that continued hours before their latest matchup in Memphis.

The warriors need players young and old to remain hugry, focused and never lose that stay-ready edge. Moody has displayed it as well as anyone.

“Mo for a young guy, he’s light years ahead being a professional,” Mike Brown said to reporters. “He’ll be ready if his number’s called.”

Maybe that comes as soon as Game 5, later in the playoffs or not until next season. Whenever it might be, Moody has put in the work to be ready in the blink of an eye. Pressure makes diamonds, and the warriors believe they have one in waiting.

He knows it, too.

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