The Minnesota Timberwolves have undergone massive changes in the 2022 offseason, and it’s worth wondering how exactly it will all come together for Minnesota in 2022-23 as they look to build on a promising year. Each week from now until the start of preseason in October, I will be writing about one specific thing for each potential rotation player that I am most intrigued to see in terms of how the team ultimately fits. For last week’s story on Josh Minott, click here.
Expected role is a crucial and often misinterpreted part of evaluating NBA rookies. Development is not linear, and not every first-rounder is going to come in and play a major role just because of their draft selection. However, if players don’t make an impact in Year 1, media and fans can disregard them.
Rookie wing Wendell Moore Jr. — the No. 26 pick in this year’s draft — will be an interesting case study in this regard. Because he has complementary, low-ceiling skills and won the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award in his final season at Duke as a junior, some might expect Moore to earn real minutes right away with the Timberwolves’ rotation up in the air after the Rudy Gobert trade.
While I’m not ruling that out, I wouldn’t peg Moore as likely to play real minutes in 2021-22. He was a late bloomer in college who didn’t enforce his will until his third season, and he didn’t quite perform like a ready-made NBA rotation player at Summer League. Head Coach Chris Finch won’t want to rely on him.
Both at Duke and in Vegas, though, Moore flashed all the skills to be a glue guy. With Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and even Jaylen Nowell in tow as on-ball threats, Minnesota is in need of more players who keep the ball moving and make the right plays. Think Derrick White next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston or Lonzo Ball lining up with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine in Chicago.
In that vein, I am interested to see which of Moore’s secondary offensive skills will be of NBA caliber. It’s likely none of them will be this year, but the flashes and development across the season will be a good indicator of what he will be capable of once he’s gotten his feet wet.
Moore shot 25% on 5.2 3-point attempts per game in Vegas per RealGM, indicating he is still adjusting to the longer NBA line. That’s not surprising considering he shot 28.3% combined from deep in his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Blue Devils before rocketing up to 41.3% as a junior.
If you’re worried that Moore’s shooting in his final season was a fluke, there are encouraging factors. He actually took more 3s as a junior (126) than he did his previous two seasons combined (92), so he has more of a track record as a deadeye than a sprayer. Plus, his shot looks pretty good, even on the move.
Still, this will be a swing skill for Moore, as it is for so many players. An accurate 3-point shot will open driving and passing lanes that may not otherwise be available to him since he isn’t an eye-popping athlete.
Keep an eye on the reps Moore gets as a shooter, whether with the G-League Wolves or the NBA club. If he makes more high-level bombs like the transition run-out below and looks comfortable, he’ll have a good outlook as a floor-spacer.
corner pocket Wendell pic.twitter.com/XCEAqpxCCj— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) July 13, 2022
This is the most NBA-ready part of Moore’s game. He makes quick decisions, throws accurate dimes off the catch and has a great feel for the extra pass. He missed out on a few extra assists at Summer League because teammates couldn’t finish off his ball movement.
Another trait of Moore’s I like here is that he is excellent at getting his head up and throwing hit-ahead passes early in the break.
Moore embodies the saying “the ball moves faster than the man,” and has since his college days. Imagine the posters Anthony Edwards could throw down on the receiving end of these dots.
This is the biggest question in Moore’s game right now. He shot 35.2% from the floor in Vegas because he isn’t a major threat off the bounce at this moment. He needs to prioritize attacking advantages and using his length to finish at the rim, as he does below.
First NBA points for Wendell Moore Jr!!! pic.twitter.com/ZKzivaaPCO— Blue Devils (@BlueDevils) July 9, 2022
Perhaps the biggest ceiling-raiser skill to monitor with Moore is shooting off the dribble. It’s a difficult skill to perfect, but that’s why masters such as Steph Curry and James Harden are so valuable. Moore won’t be like either of those two, but there are enough flashes to wonder if he can add this type of tough shot-making consistently.
Again, though, Moore’s playmaking for others is where the excitement resides. The Wolves ran him at point guard through much of Summer League, and while his 2.0-to-2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio is just one indicator of the lumps he took, he has a solid mentality for finding his teammates in advantageous spots.
I like the idea of him attacking in semi-transition and kicking out to Towns or Russell for good looks from deep.
As seen alongside Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin, Moore’s play elevates with better talent around him. We’ll see if that’s the case this year and if it earns him any minutes with the Wolves.
Assuming it doesn’t though, it will be interesting to see if Moore follows a similar trajectory to his time at Duke, where he needed a few years to figure things out. In the meantime, the abilities he does display will create an interesting dialogue about his ultimate fit on a team that hopes to contend here and now.