Will Wendell Moore Jr. Become Part Of Minnesota’s Rotation?

Photo Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Wendell Moore Jr. found out he was going to get his first career start against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies only 40 minutes before tip-off last Wednesday. Heading into the game, the rookie had only played 11 minutes in the NBA, spending most of his time in the G-League until that point.

“Coach called me into his office, and he kinda hit me with, like, you want the good news or the bad news,” Moore said, describing the moments leading up to his first start. “I always want the bad news first ‘cause I like to end good. And so he goes, ‘The bad news is you’re guarding Ja, but the good news is you’re starting.’ My eyes light up, and I was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ I knew I was ready for the moment.”

Starting for the first time is a large milestone for any young player. However, most rookies struggle because they try to force the issue and don’t play within the offense. Heading into the game against Memphis, Moore had yet to play meaningful minutes in the NBA. Therefore, Moore forcing his offense wasn’t really in the picture. Moore put his head down, focused on taking what Memphis’ defense would give him, and put the clamps down on the other end.

Moore finished the game with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists on 3 of 6 from the floor. Despite picking up four fouls, Dell’s first start was hugely successful. However, his defensive ability made his game against Memphis that much more impressive.

Below, you see Moore switch onto the 6’8” Brandon Clarke off a pick-and-roll. Wendell rises with Clarke, who figured he had a wide-open layup, blocking his shot and creating an excellent fastbreak opportunity.

Moore covered Morant for most of the night. Despite finishing with 24 points, Morant had a tough time getting to his spots as he shot 8/20 (40%) from the floor. Below is one of the best plays on both sides from the Wolves this season.

Steven Adams comes to set a screen that would’ve allowed Morant to get to his left side, which is where most of his damage is done. Instead, Moore denies Ja’s attempt to attack, forcing him to his right, where Rudy Gobert was waiting for him.

Moore then strips the ball from Morant, which triggers one of Minnesota’s many fast break opportunities that night. After that, Anthony Edwards drives into the paint and kicks it out to Moore, who feeds the extra pass to the corner, allowing Kyle Anderson a wide-open look at a three.

Taking on one of the most explosive players in the league during your first start is not an easy pill to swallow. However, Moore did just that – reading the playbook and watching the appropriate film despite not knowing if he was even going to play, let alone start.

“He was great. I thought he was really, really good,” Finch said after the game. “Solid, took the challenge. He kept them contained, got off to a great start defensively.”

Finchy liked what he saw from Moore so much that he decided to give the starting nod to Wendell against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

With OKC’s backcourt finishing with a combined 54 points on 54% from the floor, Moore and the Wolves did not have the same defensive intensity they showed against Memphis. However, Moore still finished with 9 points on 4 of 6 from the floor – yet another solid showing, despite not having defensive answers.

Moore has stepped up big-time amidst Minnesota’s injury bug.

Jaden McDaniels and Jordan McLaughlin played their first game against OKC after missing 8 combined games. Taurean Prince has been out for five straight games and appears to remain out for a week or so due to a right shoulder injury. Karl-Anthony Towns will be out for just over a month as he nurses a right calf strain back to health.

The NBA is a “next man up” league, and Moore has answered the call so far for Minnesota. He will continue to be a big part of the Wolves if he can keep his dependable play up. Chris Finch will be hard-pressed to find him, along with everyone else, minutes when the team is fully constituted. However, Finch will ultimately play the guys who improve Minnesota’s chances to win, which Moore has done in a tiny sample size.

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