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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional-Texas Tech vs Duke

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Film Room: What Wendell Moore Brings to the Timberwolves

The wing from Duke became one of Coach K’s most trusted players — and for good reason.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into college, Wendell Moore Jr. was expected to be a one-and-done player. Moore was the 22nd ranked player in the country (per ESPN) and five-star prospect in the same class as LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, and Anthony Edwards. Unfortunately, Moore had a disastrous freshman season that left many questioning what his NBA viability actually was. Moore showed tremendous perseverance and individual development, though, as he rewired his game to become the 26th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With the Timberwolves, it’ll be unlikely that Moore sees significant minutes this season purely based on roster composition. However, Moore does have experience playing a myriad of roles along more highly touted players. As a freshman, Moore was tasked as one of Duke’s primary wing scorers and defenders. A role that he was not ready for. As a sophomore, Moore took more of a backset as a facilitator and connector who just needed to find some route for positive contributions. In his junior season, Moore saw a huge production leap because his shot finally started falling, and he took on more of a playmaking and initiator role.

Moore developing as a more reliable ball-handler and creator this season was a significant cause for his increased production. According to Synergy, Moore ran the third most pick-and-rolls on Duke, his pick-and-rolls generated the highest field goal percentage compared to anyone else on Duke, and he generated 0.872 points per possession (PPP) (77th percentile). When Moore ran the pick-and-roll, his passes to the roller generated 1.235 PPP (83rd percentile), his passes to cutters generated 1.615 PPP (95th percentile), and he scored 1.083 PPP (85th percentile) when dribbling off the screen. These are really impressive marks for a 6’6” wing to hit.

Here, Moore dribbles off the brush screen and sees the help defender not in position to trap in the corner. With his man getting disrupted by the screen, Moore drives hard to the baseline. The help defender recovers enough to keep Moore out of the lane, but Moore shows off his vision and how he plays with his head up. Moore allows his momentum to carry him out of bounds, which allows him to get a better angle for the live-dribble anticipatory bounce pass to the cutting A.J. Griffin.

Moore is also excellent at finding cutters in non-pick-and-roll situations. Here, Jeremy Roach runs a simple back cut once he sees his defender is overplaying the passing/handoff lane. It isn’t a huge window to thread between Roach’s and Mark Williams’s defender, but Moore doesn’t hesitate as he delivers a perfect live dribble bounce pass through traffic to set up the layup.

Moore’s playmaking and on-ball improvement this season are largely what propelled him into the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft. In the NBA, though, the threshold to be a ball-handler/creator is so incredibly high that I struggle to see Moore playing anything close to the role he played this season at Duke. Just because he won’t play that role, though, doesn’t mean that his playmaking abilities disappear or can’t be properly leveraged.

Moore’s main offensive role will likely be as an off-ball wing, but there are different ways that he can, and did, still make an impact with his passing. Simple touch passes on the perimeter to beat defensive rotations will be key, but Moore can also be put in motion and using dribble handoffs or running off screens to initiate pseudo pick-and-roll actions.

Here, Moore lifts out of the corner to receive the pass from Trevor Keels. Moore then runs off the brush screen and promptly attacks the lane as the help defense is nowhere to be found. Moore’s drive pulls Paolo Banchero’s defender over, creating a two vs. one situation. Once Banchero’s defender commits to Moore, Moore slips a one-handed shovel pass to Banchero who gets fouled by the recovering defender.

Entering this season, the major concern with Moore’s game was his outside shooting. He shot just 21.1% from three (4-19) as a freshman and 30.1% (22-73) as a sophomore, a combined 28.3%. The sample his freshman season is essentially negligible, but the jump in volume as a sophomore is more useful even though the results were far from ideal. The common thread between those two seasons was that Moore frequently looked unwilling to shoot, had no confidence in his shot, and had erratic results on the flight of the ball on each shot.

This season, though, Moore shot 41.3% from three on 52-126. That percentage is highly encouraging and is on a sample size that is more than enough. This vast disparity in shooting percentages year over year raises the question of how valid is this year’s improvement?

I don’t expect Moore to be a career 40% three-point shooter, but I do think that this year’s jump in production is closer to reality than the previous years. The sample size is more than adequate and the fact that his free throw percentage never fell below 80% is a strong indicator.

If Moore is going to earn minutes, his outside shooting improvement must be real. This season, he showed everything you could want from an off-ball shooter. Moore scored 1.181 PPP (92nd percentile) spotting up and 1.358 PPP (95th percentile) shooting off the catch. Moore isn’t going to be a movement shooter who is constantly running off screens, but he could be a reliable outlet for Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Edwards when the inevitable double teams come. Moore was much better this season at relocating to open pockets on the floor and making himself available to teammates.

Another way for Moore to alleviate pressure for his teammates is by cutting. This season, Moore scored 1.531 PPP (94th percentile) on cuts. The same spatial awareness we saw Moore utilize with his playmaking and perimeter relocations is frequently on display with his cuts. He has excellent timing and finds the open pockets at the rim to punish defenders who are ball watching or haphazardly double the ball.

While Moore’s offensive traits seem to have found their level and give him a viable path to rotation minutes at some point, his defense is still the biggest question mark and determinant on how big of a role he’ll eventually have. Judging the defense of any Duke perimeter player in recent seasons has been extremely tough as very few of them have shown any improvement while at Duke. This season, Duke relied on Mark Williams to clean up a ton of issues at the rim as the frequently got back cut and died on screens. So, some of the concerns with Moore’s (and every other Duke perimeter player’s) defense may be largely scheme issues, but there are still physical and individual issues that Moore must clean up.

Even though there are red flags with Moore’s defense, there are also some positive signs. Since he isn’t the best athlete, Moore found most of his on-ball defensive success when guarding slower guards or bigger opponents. This will likely be the same for him in the NBA.

Here, Moore has a great on-ball possession. After avoiding the lazy screen, Moore’s positioning has pushed the ball-handler out to the wing, giving him a less desirable driving angle. As the ball-handler attacks, Moore does a great job of staying in his stance, sliding his feet, and staying between the ball and the rim. This allows him to wall up on the shot, not foul, and force the miss.

This time, Moore perfectly executes the late clock defense. As the shot clock is running down, Moore capitalizes on the ball-handler’s panic. As the screen comes, we can see Banchero talking, so Moore knows that the screen is on his left and that he can’t give up middle. The ball-handler uses a half-hearted jab step, but Moore doesn’t bite and beats the ball-handler to the spot. Moore’s instincts and situational awareness force the tough late clock heave.

Unfortunately, Moore’s on-ball defense can also mightily struggle if he’s a fraction late to react. His lateral agility isn’t very impressive, and he tends to get caught reaching or slow to flip his hips. These limitations result in him frequently giving up the corner on drives and heavily relying on his teammates to bail him out at the rim.

Moore’s lack of lateral agility can also lead to him being too jumpy defending the ball. He knows that he must beat the ball-handler to the spot to take away drives. As we can see below, this can result in a simple jab step completely discarding him from the play.

Away from the ball, Moore also shows some erratic behavior that a player with his experience has no business in displaying. He’ll die on screens, lose his man completely, regularly get back cut, and seemingly check out on possessions. The same awareness and recognition that Moore shows on offense often disappears on the defensive end.

Wendell Moore Jr. likely won’t get many meaningful minutes this season, but that doesn’t mean he is incapable of contributing in the limited minutes he gets. Offensively, Moore has improved dramatically across the board. His role will likely be relegated to an off-ball wing, but his cutting, improved shooting, and passing can be utilized in a multitude of ways. Defensively, though, Moore has a lot of work to do. He isn’t a defensive playmaker, so his awareness, consistency, and discipline must improve.