Our Jake Piazza and Shane Smith had a point/counterpoint debate on who should be Duke's fifth member of its late-game lineup in the 2021-22 season. This is Smith's case for Trevor Keels deserving that spot, while you can read Piazza's point for Wendell Moore Jr. here.
It’s hard to argue against Wendell Moore Jr. closing games at the guard position for the Blue Devils, and maybe there’s a case to be made for him to replace Jeremy Roach as the initiator in the offense.
But this is less about what Moore isn’t and more about what Trevor Keels is.
Widely overlooked in this incoming Duke recruiting class, Keels doesn’t stand out with a killer crossover or high-flying athleticism. He’s just a guy who plays the game completely within himself and gets to his spots with patience, something the Blue Devils could use a little of after last year.
While the Paul VI product may not have the defensive capabilities that Moore brings, this game is still about putting the ball in the basket. As the 2021-22 roster stands, I struggle to see who becomes the second scoring option after Paolo Banchero. AJ Griffin could be seen as a go-to-guy, but he’ll need to tighten up his handle significantly and learn to counter some of his moves. Mark Williams could be a guy to find on the block and let the 7-footer go to work, but this team needs a perimeter threat.
Gone are the days of D.J. Steward at 163 pounds, and in steps Keels’ pro-ready 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame—big enough to compete with the physicality of the ACC. With players set to report to campus in early June, an offseason of developing his body with head sports performance coach William Stephens will make Keels one of the more physically imposing 2-guards in the conference.
The last I saw of Keels, he ended his high school career against the well-known high school power DeMatha Catholic. While his team couldn’t pull out the win in overtime, the five-star recruit dropped 41 points from all over the floor, with many of them coming from the free throw line. Duke ranked No. 336 nationally in free throw rate last year, according to Kenpom, and could use a guy who’s willing to absorb contact in the lane and covert from the stripe.
That’s not to say that Moore doesn’t provide a lot of these same qualities. He’s a well-built upperclassmen who shot almost 85% from the line last year, however, I have to side with Keels because of the perimeter shooting threat he provides. With so many weapons on this Blue Devil roster, opponents are going to have to choose what shots they want to live with. Realistically looking at Duke’s top players, a 3-point attempt from Moore might be their best choice.
The junior improved tremendously from beyond the arc after his first season but is still a sub-30% 3-point shooter for his career. The next step for Moore is not settling for perimeter shots, but he seems to be trending in the opposite direction. As a freshman, the Cox Mill product took 60.4% of his shots at the rim. But why the drastic change last year? Moore saw that number dip to 37.8% as a sophomore and left many wondering if he was being too ambitious in his shot selection.
Moore will certainly play a more mature game come November, but the best option to close games will be the guy who can give more space to Banchero, Williams and Griffin in the paint. Just watch Keels in last week’s Iverson Classic, providing a quick eight-point burst. If it looks like he isn’t trying, I assure you that it’s not just because it’s an all-star game, and more about the patience in his game. I expect Keels to shoot at least 37% from deep over his freshman campaign and play a similar style to Gary Trent Jr.
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Keels uses the threat of his jumper to create space and slice down the lane with ease. You rarely see the incoming freshman take a shot that he isn't comfortable with, whether that be a midrange jumper or an NBA 3-pointer. And that's all before mentioning the established chemistry Keels has with Roach, as the two dominated the Virginia hoops scene as teammates in high school. Keels picking an open spot in transition for a look from deep is something that not many Blue Devils can provide next year, and Duke's starting point guard should already know how to find him.
Like I said earlier, I’m struggling to find reasons why head coach Mike Krzyzewski would keep Moore on the bench late in games, but with one of the best front courts in the country playing in Cameron Indoor next year, it’s more about the need for shooting at this point. Keels hasn’t proved to be anything close to a defensive liability and will keep the defense from packing it in on Banchero and Williams.
After a couple years of the sometimes wild play from Cam Reddish, Steward and Moore from the off-ball guard spot, Duke fans will welcome the sight of a freshman who plays like a fifth-year senior.
Perhaps it’s just a testament to how talented the top-six Blue Devils are next year, and someone has to sit. But I simply cannot imagine a world where the offensive versatility of Trevor Keels isn’t playing a key role for Duke in the clutch next season.