Talk about an unparalleled college basketball experience.
As a freshman at Duke during the 2019-20 season, Wendell Moore Jr. was a spot starter for a team poised to be a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament… before it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following season, Moore’s sophomore year, Duke bottomed out in a big way, missing March Madness for the first time since the mid-1990s. Months later came the bombshell news: legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski would be retiring after the next season, Moore’s junior year. That left Moore, a 20-year-old, not just as a captain and key contributor for Krzyzewski’s last team, but as one of the few “veteran” players for the Blue Devils – despite never having played a second in the NCAA Tournament.
And yet, Moore responded, leading Duke to the Final Four while simultaneously winning the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award. That combination of team and individual success – despite his circuitous college career – is what compelled Moore to ultimately enter this summer’s NBA Draft, where he was selected No. 26 and ended up with Minnesota after a draft-night trade.
“I tip my hat to Wendell,” says Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell. “He didn’t rush the process.”
The result was steady growth over the course of three years. A large part of that was athletically, where Carrawell and Duke’s staff thought there was more that Moore (no pun intended) could get out of his body. “I said, look man, you had one dunk this year? And that was on a breakaway; that doesn’t really count, and you should dunk that, ”Carrawell jokes. “So we thought he had to become more explosive, quicker.” To do that, Moore worked with Duke’s strength and sports science staffs – including using Catapult technology employed by several NBA teams – to enhance his athleticism. That translated directly into changing Moore’s gait, which in turn changed how quickly he ran, how high he jumped, and how he could move around the court without expending as much energy.
From there, the translation to production was obvious. Moore averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game this season, easily the best marks of his career. Just as important were his surges as a shooter; Moore hit 41.3 percent of his 3s, 80.5 percent of his free throws, and maintained an effective field-goal percentage of 56.9 percent, per KenPom. “The shots he was passing up – wide-open shots – his first couple of years, he was shooting (last season),” Carrawell says. “He was knocking them down with no hesitation. Usually if he missed his first 3-point shot his freshman or sophomore year, he would be hesitant (the next time), and catch it and put it on (the floor). Now it was just like he kept firing away. ”
Point being, Moore’s athletic gifts finally came together in a way that directly correlated on the court – and contributed immediately to winning. But as Carrawell alluded to, Moore’s enhanced physical tools also enabled him to grow mentally, where he could handle the pressure of being a leader on Coach K’s final team and for one of the biggest brands in college basketball.
So, what does it all mean for the Timberwolves? A couple of things. For starters, given that he played with four other draft picks this season, Moore is clearly comfortable playing – and fitting in – alongside other high-end talents. That mindset showed up on the court, too, where he was asked to do a little bit of everything. Moore didn’t play point guard, for example, but often acted as a secondary ballhandler, which is how he ended up finishing with the best assist rate on the team, per KenPom. That was possible in part because Duke didn’t have a true lead guard, but also because Moore has a strong enough handle and good enough court vision to set up his teammates. In terms of his individual offensive usage, about half of Moore’s possessions came via transition or spot-up opportunities, per Synergy, but he was efficient with both, averaging better than one point per possession (PPP). It wasn’t out of the question, in the span of a single game, for Moore to take someone off the dribble in the halfcourt, shoot over them from the corner, run past them in transition, and cut behind them for an easy layup . Something, something, full package.
Then defensively, at 6-foot-5 and 216 pounds – but with a 7-foot wingspan – Moore could realistically guard any position one through four, and regularly was asked to defend the opponent’s best perimeter player. His steals were partial proof of that, but he also registered just 1.9 fouls committed per 40 minutes, per KenPom, and was top 20 in that respect in ACC play.
Put it all together, from the longer-term growth to the versatility on both sides of the ball, and you have the makings of an ideal role player at the next level. In fact, Carrawell sees plenty of similarities to another former ACC star with almost identical physical measurables:
“I’ve always compared him to Malcolm Brogdon,” Carrawell says. “Just the big guard. When Brogdon got the pros and was Rookie of the Year and made a lot of money, I think kind they are kind of the same to me. ”
If Brogdon’s career arc – from second-round pick, to starter, to $ 85 million-dollar man – is any indicator of what’s to come for Moore, TWolves fans should absolutely hope Carrawell’s comparison plays out.
(Photo: Robert Deutsch / USA Today)