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 Piazza's case for Wendell Moore Jr. deserving that spot, while you can read Smith's counterpoint for Trevor Keels here.
Let me recreate the most iconic moment of the past two seasons for you.
It’s February 8, 2020 and Tre Jones rises up from the elbow in overtime against North Carolina. On release, it looks like Jones has somehow hit his second buzzer beater of the night, but as the ball approaches the basket, it becomes clear the shot is offline.
While everyone else stood and stared, Wendell Moore Jr. leapt to grab the errant shot, and tapped the ball into the hoop to give the Blue Devils the 98-96 victory against the Tar Heels.
Now I won’t pretend like his buzzer-beater against North Carolina was the greatest basketball play to ever exist, but the fact of the matter is Duke needed a bucket, and Moore did what had to be done in order to make that happen.
And that’s why Moore is my pick for being the fifth player alongside Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Jeremy Roach and Mark Williams to close out games. Time and time again, Moore has been the guy who delivers when Duke has its back against the wall, and that’s going to once again be the case this season.
From a schematic perspective, Moore’s skillset gels perfectly with the four other listed players. Roach can run the offense and give Banchero, Williams and Griffin their touches when they need, with Moore still able to make a positive impact on offense with his off-ball cuts and court vision. This sort of structure means that offensive flow should not be a concern.
We can’t act like Moore’s Chapel Hill buzzer beater is the only time he’s come up clutch for the team, either. That may have been his flashiest display, but in February of this past season the Charlotte native knocked down four free throws in the last 90 seconds of the Louisville game to put Duke ahead by one in the closing seconds before the Cardinals’ Carlik Jones sent the contest to overtime.
Prior to those four late free throws, Moore hadn’t even recorded a point in the entire second half, and while that is obviously not something to celebrate, it is a true sign of his late-game closing abilities. Regardless of his performance outside of crunch time, Moore knows how to find his groove when it matters most, and isn’t that what is most important in a closer anyways?
The versatile forward has time and time again stuffed the stat sheet in four of the five major categories, and even on nights where he isn’t lighting it up from the field, he finds a way to get his fingerprints all over the game.
Just take the Blue Devils’ matchup against Virginia from this past season. Moore logged four points on a subpar 2-of-7 from the field, but he dished out seven assists en route to Duke topping Virginia by one point. I know that the majority of those assists came at the beginning of the game, but my point is that I want someone with a skillset as diverse as Moore’s when the game is on the line.
With both of these games I’ve already picked, that should be enough to convince you that Moore is the man for the fifth spot, and I still haven’t gotten into the games when the Charlotte native is firing on all cylinders.
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The Duke faithful will remember this past year’s January bout against Boston College, probably because associate head coach Jon Scheyer filled in for head coach Mike Krzyzewski because of COVID-19 contact tracing.
But the single player most responsible for allowing the Blue Devils to escape what would have been a massive upset was Moore.
In addition to his 25 points off the bench, he took a critical charge at the final media timeout, and then went on to nail a jumper to extend Duke’s lead to three going into the final minute.
I will concede that Moore is not a beacon of consistency and he certainly has botched an opportunity or two late in the game. That turnover against North Carolina in February still happened and it wasn’t pretty, but his upside is too high and he has delivered when Duke needs him too many times to write him off.
I want a guy on the court who can quite literally guard any position, score from all three levels and understands when to dish the rock if his shot isn’t there. Moore fits that description and on top of that, he now has two years of college basketball under his belt, making the rising junior a perfect blend of talent and experience.
Moore has been there in crunch time for Duke for the past two years, so my question to you is, why not make it a third?