Sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. shot 22% from the field during the first five games of the season, with his performance against Coppin State being the bright spot in comparison to three other games in which he didn't hit a single shot. In Duke’s sixth game of the season, Moore appeared to live up to the hype he received during preseason talks, totaling 25 points, four rebounds and four steals. The question is, will he be able to continue to do so this season?
Moore seemed to be a name no Duke fan would forget for years after last season’s first North Carolina game thanks to his game-winning putback in overtime. During the rest of the season he was a decent player, ending up with an average 7.4 points per game. It’s safe to say that the majority of the fanbase was enthused to hear that he would be returning for a second year in 2020. Between him, Jordan Goldwire and Matthew Hurt, there were many returning players for the incoming freshmen to look to as examples on the court.
In the first game of the season against Coppin State, Moore continued to show promise, shooting 6-of-11 from the field and had a few nice assists and rebounds. Nothing too exhilarating, but increased stats from the previous year as one would expect from a sophomore of his caliber.
Then came the Michigan State game. While Moore scored the first four points of the game, all four were scored off free throws. He did not score again for the remainder of the game, despite the fact that he played 30 minutes. Moore played sloppily throughout the loss to the Spartans. In the first clip, one can see him dribble the ball off his foot, a turnover off of which Michigan State was able to score. His sloppiness continued to be a detriment to the team, as he ended up turning the ball over three more times against the Spartans.
In the next clip, he misses a three-pointer that was relatively wide open because he did not take the time he could have used to set his feet and take a less rushed shot. A few minutes afterwards, he makes the same mistake again. This makes one of his key flaws quite evident: he occasionally doesn’t know when to take his shots and won’t relent, even if he continues to miss. Over the past two seasons, he has shot an average of 20% from the three-point line. This stat comes primarily from Moore completely missing every three in most games and then one or two occasional games per season where he gets hot and makes every one. As such, we know he has the ability to make threes, he just needs to take the time to plant his feet and take a better shot when he has the time. When he does that, he is generally successful and has games where we see “Clutch Wendell.”
Moore then lost his starting spot and saw progressively fewer minutes in the next three games, shooting 1-for-12 from the field in those contests. It’s important to remember that the only stats that matter are not just points, rebounds and assists per game. Moore attempted to redeem himself in the eyes of head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Crazies against Illinois, hoping to shine defensively, but once again came up short. In the clip below, he leaves his man to try to defend another driver, risking picking up a blocking call. While Moore does not get the blocking call, the man he left scored right behind his back, and Coach K took him out of the game.
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Against Boston College, Moore came back swinging. After missing 20 of his previous 21 shots before the game against the Eagles, he finally began to return to the player all Crazies hoped he would be this season. The tape speaks for itself. Against Boston College, Moore saw the court and took his time to take good shots and make smart plays. Right off the bat, in the clip below, he takes the exact same shot he missed against Michigan State from the top of the arc, but he takes the time to set his feet and not rush the shot, cleanly knocking it down. Later in the game, he makes a reverse layup that emphasizes his ability to not be sloppy. After the past few games, one might have figured he would lose the ball underneath the basket, but he clearly has the skills he needs to handle the ball well, he just doesn’t always use those skills.
Ultimately, when one compares the majority of his games this season to the game where he shined against Boston College, he seems like an entirely different player. One key difference between the Boston College game and every other Duke game this season? Coach K was not in attendance after having been contact-traced for COVID-19. The Blue Devils needed someone to be a leader and come up clutch for them. Those are the times when Wendell Moore truly shines. We saw it against UNC last year, and this year we saw the same against Boston College. Wendell Moore, like a piece of charcoal, turns into a diamond under pressure. He just needs the Crazies and his teammates to make him feel needed for him to play at the level everyone knows he can.