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What does the return of Wendell Moore Jr. mean for Duke?

One of the more intriguing NBA prospects in the ACC will return for his sophomore season: Duke’s Wendell Moore Jr.

As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 Moore appeared in 25 games (11 starts); he averaged 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Moore’s decision to return came one day after power forward Matthew Hurt elected to run things back in Durham as well.

One of the younger players in the 2019 class, Moore (who turns 19 in September) struggled at times adjusting to the college game. The speed of play seemed to overwhelm Moore (at times), who battled inconsistencies with his decision-making.

Moore’s shot came and went this season, too. He shot just 4-of-19 on 3-point opportunities (21.1 3P%), which accounts for less than 13 percent of his total field goal attempts. According to Synergy Sports, Moore shot 40.6 percent at the rim and 22.2 percent on off-dribble jumpers in the half court.

Moore was also one of only two qualifying players in the ACC to produce a turnover rate north of 27 percent, too.

To properly evaluate WMJ, though, the numbers must come with some caveats. Moore had his issues with half-court positioning and play-making, but the 215-pound wing also put together some nice outings — with flashes of two-way versatility.

 

Slashing

One of the most important things Moore brings to the table is his ability to attack off the bounce. As Duke looks to reorient its offense sans Tre Jones, Moore will be counted on to provide some off-the-dribble craft. Going forward as a prospect, Moore needs to show improvements as a pull-up shooter, play-maker and finisher at the rim.

Here’s an example of Moore at his best as pull-up shooter. He takes what Jared Hamilton gives him, with a baseline drive (good first step). Moore initiates the contact with Hamilton, pulls up up before hitting the help defender, Jairus Hamilton, and finishes with a soft touch.

NBA franchises obviously want to space the floor with as many shooters as possible, which is why Moore needs to improve as a spot-up threat, too. However, NBA teams want to space the floor in order to open up gaps and driving lanes. The more play-makers, the better.

That’s part of the appeal with Moore: he can attack, as a burrowing driver, and make plays for others. Moore got to experience playing on the basketball this season, though his minutes as a primary creator were a bit wonky.

Moore, who drew 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes, can play downhill basketball — with a bunch of herky-jerky hesitation moves to carve out space. Some of this creativity in the final third of the floor, and the ability to create separation, is quite tantalizing.

Close to 67 percent of Moore’s 2-point field goals this season were unassisted, including 76.6 percent of his finishes around the basket.

 

Pick-and-roll the dice

With the departure of Jones, Duke is set to lose not only its lead ball handler but also its top pick-and-roll engine. According to Synergy, Duke ball handlers used 226 pick-and-roll possessions this season (0.7 ppp); Jones accounted for over 64 percent (145) of those possessions (0.72 ppp, 40.3 eFG%).

Jones is also credited with an additional 181 possessions that ended after he passed the ball, out of the pick-and-roll, to someone that used the possession (0.94 ppp). This is a lot of offense headed out the door.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, the cupboard isn’t bare. Jordan Goldwire is back, as a senior, and he’ll have his opportunities to handle. Goldwire played pretty well off ball next to Jones this season. When Jones missed two games in the middle of the year, Goldwire was solid as the starting point guard, especially the win over Wofford.

Incoming 5-star guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward will certainly factor into the picture, with significant roles. Jalen Johnson, a 5-star forward, should initiate plenty of offense, too.

Moore, however, will command some pick-and-roll possessions.

After Tre, Moore actually accounted for the second most used pick-and-roll possessions on the roster: 36. Moore shot 36.8 percent out of screen-roll action, which isn’t great, but is acceptable. The turnovers, however, are a sticking point; Moore recorded a turnover on nearly 42 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions. That’s…not ideal.

In a smaller sample, Moore flashed the necessary tools to share the ball out of pick-and-roll (0.85 ppp), usually from Duke’s 1-4 high Iverson/continuity sets.

With his height and physicality, Moore can see over or play through contact from opposing perimeter players. He needs to tighten his handle, but when Moore plays heads-up basketball, he’s capable of becoming a rugged source of half-court offense.

 

Shooting Indicators

For the season, Synergy credits Moore with only 5 spot-up no-dribble jump shots (2-of-5 FGA). Considering that he played 600 minutes (20 percent usage rate), that’s a tiny amount. Overall, Moore scored 0.58 points per spot-up possession, the plurality of which went to basket drives (41.7 FG%).

Moore’s shot is mostly fine; the mechanics are simple, with no glaring hitches. He lacks confidence, though.

There’s a positive sign, though: Moore’s free throw shooting. During his freshman season, WMJ shot 80.6 percent from the line (54-of-67 FTA). The sample is relatively small, but this is a slightly encouraging indicator. Moore has the ability to become a more confident and reliable wing shooter.

 

Can Moore add some explosion?

Moore is a physical wing with decent strength for his frame and age; however, he can do more from an athletic standpoint. Again, the shooting numbers at the rim aren’t great, and he showed limited vertical pop this season: only 3 dunks. All 3 of those dunks came against Wofford and Brown.

WMJ recorded just 6 total blocks this season as well. He did have a stretch during conference play, though, when he blocked five shots over a six-game window.

This is the kind of defensive effort Duke needs more of next season: Moore gets back in transition to help contest Mac McClung at the rim. Despite landing out of bounds, Moore stays with the play and finishes it with an impressive closeout block.

Moore also brings some defensive versatility to the table; he guarded 1-4 at times this season, working as an occasional small-ball 4 for the Blue Devils. That included some major minutes there during Duke’s win at North Carolina.

With his athleticism, it be nice to see Moore create more events, too. For the season, Moore averaged 1.5 steals per 40 minutes, but his steal rate dropped to a measly 1.2 percent in ACC action.

 

Find the key

There’s a journey ahead for Moore, who needs to see improvements in his decision-making, shooting and off-ball defense. Those require serious work, though Moore does have youth on his side.

Thanks to the additions of Columbia grad transfer Patrick Tape and 7-foot freshman Mark Williams, Duke has size next season. As Mike Gribanov from The Stepien suggests, though, the Blue Devils could also play a more amorphous style of basketball.

During the 2018-19 season, Duke committed to a fairly aggressive switching approach; the presence of Jones, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish unlocked that potential.

Next season, Duke could dial up the position-less tactics. With Hurt’s ability to play the 5, Duke has access to 5-out lineups, ones that will generate gaps and closeouts to drive. A key to achieving that 5-out nirvana, though, rests on the potential evolution of Moore.

 

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