Is Wendell Moore the Duke basketball program’s next breakout star?

Duke basketball guard Jordan Goldwire and forward Wendell Moore celebrate a win at North Carolina (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Duke basketball guard Jordan Goldwire and forward Wendell Moore celebrate a win at North Carolina (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Duke basketball’s Wendell Moore is capable of more than just silencing UNC.

While there is no obvious star on this year’s Duke basketball team like Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, or Marvin Bagley III, the Blue Devils still have a deep and talented roster nonetheless.

Almost every year, there is one player who takes his game to the next level. Luke Kennard was able to make a big jump and become a star for Duke as a sophomore during the 2016-17 season. Could another sophomore in Wendell Moore Jr. become a star player for the Blue Devils? He certainly has the potential and now as a veteran player, will have his opportunity to do so.

No matter what kind of career Moore ends up having, he will always be remembered in Durham for his putback at the buzzer to take down rival North Carolina. If you make a game-winning shot against UNC, you will always be remembered and hailed around Duke. Just ask Austin Rivers.

The game against UNC was a crowning moment for the former four-star recruit, and it immediately put him in Duke basketball lore. It was an incredible moment, but Moore was unable to show that he could be more than a role player as a freshman. Last year’s team was primarily built around Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr., so others had to sacrifice and accept lesser roles.

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Early on last season, Moore struggled to get consistent minutes and provide production while in the game. He finally broke through in a showdown against Georgetown in Madison Square Garden, scoring 17 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing three assists while shooting 70 percent from the field. After that, he became a staple in the rotation as Duke’s most reliable wing defender.

Moore was playing around 25 minutes per game in the four games leading up to a road game against Miami, where he suffered an injury that kept him sidelined for almost a month. Duke definitely missed the Charlotte native during that stretch, and he stepped right back into the fold when he logged 24 minutes in a road game at Syracuse.

His best game from a statistical standpoint came in a tough loss at Wake Forest. Moore played 40 minutes and scored 25 points with an incredible 15-for-16 clip from the foul line.

Overall, though, he didn’t put up huge numbers as a Duke basketball rookie. He averaged just under 7.5 points per game and a shade under two assists per game while connecting on just four 3-pointers the entire season. Moore played in every game he was available, averaging about 24 minutes per game, but started only 11 times.

The question of whether or not Wendell Moore can shoot the ball still looms large. He attempted only 19 3-pointers the entire year and clearly did not have much confidence in his ability to hit outside shots, as he didn’t even attempt a three in Duke’s final 10 games.

Moore has to be willing to take more 3-pointers this year to open up his game. While he has a slower release, his form is not bad. He also shot 80 percent from the foul line, which shows some promise as a shooter.

Wendell Moore’s shot at Duke basketball stardom starts with defense

Where Moore showed the most potential was as a defender and playmaker. He was by far Duke’s best wing defender a season ago. At 6-foot-5, he has the defensive versatility to defend positions 1-4.

He earned minutes last year because of his defense. He competes hard, has good lateral quickness, and enjoys the length and athleticism to get into passing lanes to come up with steals and deflections. Having a good wing defender is almost essential in today’s game. Moore has the opportunity to become one of the best defensive players in the ACC this year.

While Wendell Moore did not shoot much from the outside, he did not let that affect his aggressiveness when attacking the basket. He has smooth ball-handling skills, and Duke would oftentimes let him bring the ball up and run the offense to allow for Tre Jones to play off the ball.

If Moore can be a bigger factor on the boards this year, he can be a guy who can grab a rebound, take the ball down the court, and initiate the fast break. He has shown the ability to break down his defender and consistently get into the lane.

He is not an explosive athlete but is still a capable finisher around the rim. The majority of Moore’s field goals came on drives to the basket and shots around the rim. He has good athleticism and a nearly 7-foot wingspan, allowing him to benefit from his great extension when finishing through contact and around taller defenders.

Moore is probably Duke’s most versatile player on the current roster.  There were times a season ago when Moore played both the one-spot and the five. I would expect Coach K to continue to put Moore in various situations to take full advantage of his dynamism and versatility

While it is still unclear whether or not Moore will be able to become a reliable scorer, he has the potential to be one of Duke basketball’s most valuable players this season.

Versatility is extremely important in today’s game. Duke has other players who can provide scoring, so Moore will be able to do what he does best: defend, play hard, and attack the basket. He will also be relied upon to provide leadership. Moore played many meaningful minutes as a freshman, and that experience alone will be beneficial for a young Blue Devil team.

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