Timberwolves

Wendell Moore Has the Skills To Become A Primary Ball-Handler

Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is in full swing, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially halfway through their schedule. While there have been many ups and downs, the team has come out of the first two games with one win and one loss. Most importantly, we’ve had our first chance to see Minnesota’s 2022 draft picks in action. Josh Minott, a 6’8″ wing drafted out of Memphis in the second round, made headlines in Game 1 by emphatically dunking his way to 22 points and grabbing 10 boards. David McCormack, a UDFA big man out of Kansas, has looked comfortable on the glass in his minutes. He’s shown promise of being a rotation 4 or 5 in the future.

However, Wendell Moore has been the most interesting player to watch. In Game 1, Minnesota’s first-round pick out of Duke played efficiently, shooting 2-of-3 from three-point range. He also played solid defense, snagging four rebounds and ending the game with a team-high plus-11. Moore looked comfortable handling the ball and pushing the team’s pace while also moving fluidly off scenes to get open shots off the ball.

Game 2 was not so pretty. Moore shot just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc and committed four turnovers and six fouls. There seemed to be an invisible lid on the hoop in Game 2 — no one on the court could buy a three-pointer. The Wolves made only 4-of-33 threes, and the Memphis Grizzlies made only 3-of-31. However, even as Summer League games giveth hype and taketh it away, Moore proved that he can still impact a game if he’s not shooting well. Moore flashed his ball hawk skills, tallying three steals, and showed off his underrated athleticism by chasing down and blocking a layup from Minnesota native David Roddy.

It’s best not to react too strongly to either performance. Summer League gives you a snapshot of how good a player is compared to other rookies and G League veterans attempting to make NBA rosters. However, it is by no means an accurate depiction of what a player will look like in two to three years after they’ve spent time soaking up the knowledge of NBA coaches and players. Instead, the games provide us with interesting clues as to what players could be capable of in their first year. They also tell us how the coaching staff believes they can best utilize a player in future NBA games.

Perhaps the most interesting breadcrumb is that Moore has been playing a lot of his Summer League minutes as the point guard, despite playing primarily the 2 and 3 at Duke. Moore is unlikely to play minutes at the 1 this year, given the presence of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin. However, it is a sign of what the coaching staff believes Moore can mold his game into over time. Kevin Burleson, the Timberwolves player development and summer league coach, said they are putting Moore on the ball a lot because he believes Moore has “more playmaking ability than he has shown.” Burleson later said that Moore “is talented enough to be a primary guy, so we put that on him.”

While it may not happen soon, Moore has shown he has what it takes to develop into a lead ball-handler and distributor over time. Despite not being the main point guard at Duke, Moore controlled a share of the ball-handling and distributing responsibilities and played the 1 in some rotations. Moore led an incredibly talented Blue Devils roster in assists per game at 4.4, which supports Burleson’s notion that Wendell has more playmaking he can unlock if the ball is in his hands more often. Wendell also had some incredible peak games distributing in his junior year, including a triple-double against Army and a game with seven assists and 12 boards against solid competition in Miami.

The possibility of Moore developing into a 1 is exciting for multiple reasons. First, Moore has a strong, NBA-ready build. He measured 6’5″, with a 7’0.5″ wingspan and 216 pounds at the 2022 NBA combine. That isn’t exceptionally large for a 3, the position Moore played most at Duke. However, if he were to play down a position or two, he would have well above average positional height and length. Moore is already a good defender against 3s, and he made the ACC All-Defensive team last year. He also won the Julius Erving Award for small forward of the year.

But if you were able to move him to the 1 or 2 on defense, he would likely be an absolute terror for guards to play against due to his size, length, and skill. While DLo seems like he will be around for the foreseeable future, it’s logical to plan for a future where Anthony Edwards is soaking up many of the primary ball-handling minutes. Thus, developing a defensive-oriented connector who can eventually play the 1 or 2 next to Ant seems like a smart long-term play.

In addition to his size, Moore has intelligence, one of the other key intangibles that often makes point guards successful in the NBA. From everything we’ve heard, Moore is a sponge for knowledge. Per Burleson, Wendell sometimes knows the plays before Burleson finishes drawing them up and that Wendell is “one of them kids that can get things really quick.”

Many of the NBA’s best point guards are successful because they are floor generals who know the tendencies of other players on the court and are always thinking a step ahead. The most obvious example of this is Chris Paul, who makes it a priority to pick on the opposing team’s worst defenders, and exploits their specific weaknesses to get easy buckets. However, DLo is also a great example of a player who uses his high IQ to affect the game.

His ability to call out opponents’ plays quickly on defense and tell his less experienced teammates where they need to be if they’re a step slow was part of why the Wolves’ defense was successful last year. While being a student of the game is essential at any position, it is crucial for guards. They often act as an extension of the coaching staff on the court because they are the primary players responsible for running the team’s offensive sets and slowing down or speeding up the game to the team’s strengths.

Only time will tell if Moore will have the skill or opportunity to get minutes at the point guard. However, he has a good set of mentors in DLo and McLaughlin who should help him develop his court vision and game sense over time. In addition, Moore’s versatility as a player should allow his coaches to help him accentuate the skills he is best at, whether it be as an undersized wing or a big guard. As a result, he should have a long and fruitful career ahead of him in the NBA.

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Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

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