What Moore Do You Want? | The Weekend Warrior
Wendell Moore Jr. is Duke's unsung hero, the member of the band that should be considered a consensus First Round Talent.
I’m With the Band
Ringo Starr. Charlie Watts. John Frusciante. Everyone not named Rivers Cuomo in Weezer. All are (or were) extremely talented musicians that are (or were) respected by their fellow bandmembers and hardcore fans but are unknown by most the gen-pop. Frontmen are hard to ignore. They are incredible vocalists, wear flashy clothing, and ooze charisma. Some bands such as “Santana” take on the name of their guitarist because of how renowned they are for their craft. Meanwhile, the Starr’s or Frusciante’s of the world are (or were) musical geniuses that simply do (or did) what they do for the love of music and for the advancement of their world-famous bands.
Basketball is like music in a lot of ways. There are stars, for one—even at the collegiate level; Duke’s basketball program has a rockstar of a head coach in Mike Krzyzewski. Their current class figures to have five potential first-round talents as well. Paolo Banchero could go #1 overall, AJ Griffin is garnering top-five consideration, Mark Williams has gained momentum as a potential Lottery pick, and even Trevor Keels projects as one of the best perimeter defenders in the coming draft, should he declare. All the while, Wendell Moore Jr. has been the steadfast hand of the Blue Devils—the player that does anything and everything his team needs him to do in order to secure the win. He isn’t Duke’s frontman; however, Moore Jr. should be discussed as a player that teams should target within the First Round.
Frontmen in rock bands have a certain “it” factor about them that makes fans scream at the top of their lungs when they see them. Charisma, body language, and—to quote Dr. Evil—“What the French call a certain…‘I don’t know what’”. Their vocals and their stage presence captivate the audience. While Wendell Moore Jr. isn’t asked to do this regularly, he has shown the ability to run an offense and do so effectively.
Before I wrote for No Ceilings, I hosted a podcast called Draft Capital. I was fortunate enough to host long-time NBA Draft Analyst Chad Ford on that show. While discussing other prospects, Chad, unprompted, explained how NBA front offices were beginning to question whether or not Wendell Moore Jr. would be capable of running an offense as an initiator of sorts.
This episode took place around the time of my Big Board 2.0 that I had published in my then-independent Substack newsletter. At that time, Moore Jr. was averaging five assists per game and ranked in the 94th percentile overall offensively, per Synergy. That hasn’t changed much as the season has progressed. By the conclusion of the regular season, Moore Jr. ranked in the 97th percentile in possessions that included assists. He wasn’t asked to operate as the pick-and-roll ball-handler often, but in the 15% of the time he did run it, Moore Jr. ranked in the 82nd percentile nationally.
Standing up front isn’t for everyone. Sometimes you can make the “Big Time” famous for “just” playing an instrument—so long as you can do so at an elite level. Carlos Santa, Peter Frampton, Slash, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B King could all sing, but we mostly know them for their ability to make their guitars cry. They had a way with the strings.
This is where Wendell is most likely to make a living when he initially enters the NBA. Playing off players like Paolo Banchero, Jeremy Roach, and Trevor Keels, Moore Jr. proved to be an ideal complementary player to them. He finished the regular season as a 41% three-point shooter from the floor and ranked in the 92nd percentile in spot-up opportunities. A quick study of his shooting motion and its consistency, and you’ll quickly see why it’s easy to be high on Moore Jr.’s shooting ability.
One concern that scouts and analysts have regarding his shooting is the 11% increase that Wendell has shown this season. You may ask “Why would improvement be a concern?” and, more times than not, I’d most likely agree. The logic that may exist behind this concern is this: Is that jump in efficiency sustainable? In his sophomore season, Moore Jr. shot just 30.1% from deep, and he shot 21.1% as a freshman. If you examine his history closely, you’ll see that in each season, Wendell Moore Jr. has had an increase in minutes played (24.0, 27.6, 33.8) that is in correlation to his three-point shooting percentage (21.1%, 30.1%, and 41.1%, respectively). On top of that, Wendell has never shot less than 80% from the free-throw line in his three-year collegiate career. That seems real to me.
Plenty of iconic bands became famous due to their drummer’s talent. The White Stripes with Meg White, Motley Crue with Tommy Lee, Fleetwood Mac with Mick Fleetwood, Genesis with Phil Collins, Rush with Neil Peart, and The Who with Keith Moon—all of these bands were launched into stardom in large part due to having one of the top performers at their profession. Even those bands that aren’t specifically recognized because of their drummer; they play a pivotal role in the progression of a song. They provide rhythm. They are the heartbeat.
On the court, the importance of defense can be likened to the importance of percussion in music. It’s hard to garner the attention of an entire audience with stellar defensive play by itself; there are rarely ever attention-grabbing solo performances on defense. It isn’t as sexy as a no-look pass, an alley-oop, or a step-back three, but as the saying goes: defense wins championships. While teammate Mark Williams is going to certainly get a lot of acclaim for his defensive acumen, Wendell Moore Jr. is more than capable of holding his own on that end.
Like teammate Mark Williams, Moore Jr. made the All-ACC Defensive First Team. He ranked seventh in the conference in total steals, ninth in Defensive Win Shares, 14th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, 17th in Defensive Rating, and 14th in Steal Percentage. Per Synergy, Wendell ranks in the 81st percentile while defending Pick-and-Roll Ball Handlers and in the 61st percentile defending players in spot-up opportunities. Strangely enough, he hasn’t been mentioned among the names of the best perimeter defenders in this class. The question is: Why? I’m not sure there is a good reason.
Moore Jr., like most good defenders, starts with good technique. In the clips above, you’ll notice the footwork. You see that he uses his hands very well, that he is selective in his gambles, and when he stays at home with his reach. Of all the members of the All-ACC Defensive First Team members, he and Leaky Black are tied with the fewest Fouls-Per-Game at 1.6. What makes that even more impressive is that Wendell led the ACC in minutes played with 1,286. Black, on the other hand, played 1,059 on the season. Even when he is beaten, Wendell shows that he has the athleticism and plus-recovery ability to either force the ball-handler to difficult positions or erase the shot attempt altogether.
Wendell Moore Jr. isn’t going to be the Freddie Mercury of a team. He doesn’t have the stage presence of a Mick Jagger, a Bono, or an Ozzy Osbourne. What he does brings to a team, however, is a particular set of skills that he’s developed over a career that may have taken longer than some have wanted. Skills that make him a nightmare for opposing teams. What Moore do you want?
*Closing comments influenced by Liam Neeson in Taken*
Early NBA Draft Entrants:
One thing the NCAA has done for the NBA that I have enjoyed the most is allowing players to test their draft stock. Players being able to receive input from NBA teams and return to work on their game is something that just makes too much sense, and I feel it’s improved the quality of play in college and in the pros. We’re likely to see one of—if not the—highest test rate among college and international players. The odds that we see players declare and then return are likely high, but here’s a quick hit on some of the more prominent names that are looking to see how they fare in the NBA as of now.
Nijel Pack | Kansas State | Guard | Sophomore
Kenneth Lofton Jr. | Louisiana Tech | Big | Sophomore
Tari Eason | LSU | Forward | Sophomore
Josh Minott | Memphis | Forward | Freshman
Iverson Molinar | Mississippi State | Guard | Junior
Bryce McGowens | Nebraska | Wing | Freshman
Blake Wesley | Notre Dame | Guard | Freshman
EJ Liddell | Ohio State | Big | Junior
Jordan Hall | Saint Joseph’s | Perimeter | Sophomore
Baylor Scheierman | South Dakota State | Wing | Junior
Kevin McCullar | Texas Tech | Perimeter | Junior
Kendall Brown | Baylor | Forward | Freshman
Jabari Walker | Colorado | Forward | Sophomore
Keegan Murray | Iowa | Forward | Sophomore
Jake LaRavia | Wake Forest | Wing | Junior
Mike Miles Jr. | TCU | Guard | Sophomore
Harrison Ingram | Stanford | Forward | Freshman
Aminu Mohammed | Georgetown | Guard | Freshman
Jalen Williams | Santa Clara | Wing | Junior
Jaden Ivey | Purdue | Guard | Sophomore
Jonathan Davis | Wisconsin | Guard | Sophomore
Max Christie | Michigan State | Guard | Freshman
Malaki Branham | Ohio State | Guard | Freshman
Dereon Seabron | North Carolina State | Perimeter | Sophomore
Julian Champagnie | St. John’s | Wing | Junior
Enter the Transfer Portal:
You’ll hear varying opinions on how the transfer portal in college sports is either killing the integrity of the sport or how it’s helping student-athletes put themselves in the best position to help their draft stock. Personally, I love that these students get the opportunity to make life-altering decisions. It also inserts a level of chaos, an added level of urgency for teams to bolster their lineups and adjust their recruiting focus. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent names that will be heavily recruited to jump ship.
Jalen Bridges | West Virginia | Forward | Sophomore (R.S)
Jaiden Delaire | Stanford | Forward | Grad Transfer
Joseph Bamisile | George Washington | Guard | Sophomore
Fardaws Aimaq | Utah Valley | Big | Junior (R.S)
Will Richard | Belmont | Guard | Freshman
Trevon Brazile | Missouri | Forward | Freshman
Brandon Murray | LSU | Guard | Freshman
Xavier Pinson | LSU | Guard | Grad Transfer
Terrence Shannon Jr. | Texas Tech | Wing | Junior
Samuell Williamson | Louisville | Wing | Junior
Andre Curbelo | Illinois | Guard | Sophomore
Nelly Cummings | Colgate | Guard | Grad Transfer
Manny Bates | North Carolina State | Big | Junior
Earl Timberlake | Memphis | Guard | Sophomore
Nijel Pack | Kansas State | Guard | Sophomore
Mark Sears | Ohio | Guard | Sophomore
Efton Reid | LSU | Big | Freshman
Courtney Ramey | Texas | Guard | Graduate
Alex Fudge | LSU | Wing | Freshman
Coach Mike Krzyzewski:
If you have been living under a rock (or just haven’t watched college hoops this season), you may not have heard that Coach K is retiring after this season. And if you haven’t been living under a rock and have been watching college hoops this season, you may be like me and have grown tired of being reminded of that when watching literally every Duke game. That’s not to be disrespectful; I just don’t need to hear it anymore. That being said, this wouldn’t be “Stephen’s Storylines” if one of the greatest coaches of all time that is set to retire wasn’t at least mentioned.
After some questionable losses late in the season and after some questionable coaching decisions by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has transformed into an awakened dragon. Paolo Banchero has been granted the opportunity to create more within the offense—something many (myself included) were clamoring for due to the lack of spacing the Blue Devils had displayed in their recent outings. The combination of Banchero and center Mark Williams has turned into the elite duo in the tournament, while the featured Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin have been lethal off of the catch.
Duke being “bagged” with the 2-Seed within the same region as Gonzaga seemed like a death sentence to many. However, Coach K was able to put his talented team in positions to succeed—whether that be giving Paolo the rock or allowing the unheralded Jeremy Roach to be the team’s microwave scorer. The Blue Devils were able to defeat Cal State Fullerton and Michigan State. The team that many (myself included) picked to upset Duke, Texas Tech, was defeated by five points. Arkansas, the team that beat top-seeded Gonzaga, fell at the hands of Duke, 78-69.
Krzyzewski’s team would then draw North Carolina for their Final Four matchup—a team they lost to in the ACC Tournament. This would be the first time the Tobacco Road rivalry happened in the NCAA Tournament and would actually be the last time Coach K would face his long-time rival school. The matchup lived up to the quasi-WWE promotionals that were cut for Coach K’s actual last time he would face Carolina. The teams split their previous two bouts, leaving this to be the ultimate tiebreaker.
The opening half ended with Duke on top, leading 37-34. Coach Krzyzewski was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to play center Mark Williams, as he was tagged with two fouls within the first five minutes of the game. Coach took Williams out, with reserve big man Theo John playing a larger-than-normal role. John picked up three fouls, making Coach K’s job more difficult. Coach opted to roll the dice by leaving John out there in hopes of allowing Mark to play the bulk of the second half. John picked up a fourth foul, forcing the Blue Devils to go small with Paolo Banchero at the five. Duke led at the half.
The legendary coach would go on to coach through impressive runs by both teams and would let the recently struggling Trevor Keels play 30 minutes—the most he’s logged in their tournament run. Keels arguably played his best game since Duke faced off against Pittsburg at the beginning of March. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting and played solid defense. He was also one of three Blue Devils in double-digit scoring (Paolo Banchero with 20 points; Wendell Moore Jr. with 10).
Neither Coach K nor Trevor Keels were enough to hold off their rivals, as they would ultimately lose the game 81-77. Duke had a difficult time containing Caleb Love, who finished with 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the floor. Brady Manek had a subpar game compared to his prior outings, but he came alive at the right time, hitting clutch threes and providing pesky defense at key moments. RJ Davis had 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, while Leaky Black was a constant in terms of effort plays, and Armando Bacot continued his monstrous rebounding campaign as he finished with 21 on the night.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski would (allegedly) coach his last game against his biggest rival in a first-time moment in NCAA history—a game that lived up to all of its billing. This game marked the end of a 42-year career, which contains 13 Final Four appearances, a 101-30 record in the NCAA Tournament, and five NCAA National Championships. During his tenure at Duke, he amassed an astounding 1129-308 record and a record of 73-59 while at Army. Coach K tallied a 76.6% winning percentage and is the most winning coach in all of college basketball.
It wasn’t the fairy tale ending some may have hoped for, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski had a legendary career nonetheless.
Warriors of the Week:
Caleb Love, G, North Carolina
(vs. Duke; W) 28 Points [11/20 FG, 3/10 3P, 3/4 FT], 4 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 4 Turnovers, 2 Fouls.
RJ Davis, G, North Carolina
(vs. Duke; W) 18 Points [6/13 FG, 2/4 3P, 4/4 FT], 7 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 1 Turnover, 4 Fouls.
Ochai Agbaji, G, Kansas
(vs. Villanova; W) 21 Points [6/8 FG, 6/7 3P, 3/4 FT], 2 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Block, 1 Turnover, 2 Fouls.
Paolo Banchero, F, Duke
(vs. North Carolina; L) 20 Points [8/17 FG, 2/4 3P, 2/4 FT], 10 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 2 Blocks, 1 Turnover, 2 Fouls.
David McCormack, C, Kansas
(vs. Villanova; W) 25 Points [10/12 FG, 5/6 FT], 9 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Steal, 1 Turnover, 2 Fouls.
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