After a pair of challenging underclassmen seasons, Duke basketball’s Wendell Moore is coming into his own in Year 3.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving — Duke’s final game before Friday’s showdown with No. 1 Gonzaga — The Citadel traveled to Durham, N.C. Duke did precisely what it expected, scoring 107 points in a 26-point blowout.

It was Duke’s efficiency that stood out in the win, recording 25 assists to just three turnovers and going 27-of-29 from the free-throw line. The Blue Devils needed a complete performance to create momentum ahead of Friday.

Duke’s junior co-captain Wendell Moore had another impressive performance. Just 10 days prior, Moore secured the fifth triple-double in Duke’s program history. Against The Citadel, Moore nearly became the first player in program history with two career triple-doubles, ultimately finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.

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As a top-25 prospect out of the 2019 class, Moore likely didn’t expect to still be in a Duke uniform in 2021. But to understand his current level of play — ranking among Duke’s top two this season in points, rebounds, assists, and 3-pointers — we have to rewind Moore’s backstory.

Winning is in Moore’s nature

Moore has been a winner at every level of his career.

In eighth grade, he was the point guard for the national championship-winning Carolina Preps travel ball program. Throughout his four years at Concord (N.C.) Cox Mill High School, Moore amassed a 106-20 record with a state championship his junior season. With USA Basketball, Moore won gold medals in the 2017 FIBA u16 Americas and 2018 FIBA u17 World Cup.

So when the Duke junior was asked how good this 2021-22 version of Duke’s team could be, he was speaking from a place of experience.

“I think this team could be special,” Moore said. “I mean, think about this; we are just cracking the surface of how good we could really be. I think we already are one of the best defensive teams in the country. If we continue playing that way, we will end up being one of the best teams in the country.”

Moore’s road towards confidence in Durham has not come easy. Like anything worthwhile, he has had to fight to this point in his career.

“Wendell has done a great job this spring in developing his body, his athleticism,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “By having the ball, he is just getting it; he is more familiar with the ball in his hands. He is our best communicator on the court.”

Moore confirms this sentiment from Krzyzewski: “I figured out my first two years here you are bound to have a couple hiccups no matter how good you are. I figured out a way to stay in that happy medium — not getting too high or getting too low. When I stay in that happy medium, I think I am a pretty good player.”

Moore’s confidence grew from the work

Last season, Moore started 18 times and played 27.6 minutes per game. He was largely considered an average producer, if not inconsistent. Synergy graded Moore’s offensive output as ‘average,’ scoring 0.823 points per possession on the season. His 15.3 player efficiency rating placed Moore 45th overall in the ACC, a respectable mark.

Going into the summer, Moore knew he had to grow his game and go about things differently. As co-captain, he would be looked upon to lead during Coach Krzyzewski’s final season.

“I really just trusted the work this offseason,” Moore said. “I stayed in the gym every single day this summer for numerous hours and put in so much work in that I now have the utmost confidence in myself. All that work wasn’t for nothing.”

This season, Moore is scoring 1.154 points per possession, which Synergy grades out as ‘excellent.’ His team impact is evident as well, as Duke is scoring 1.455 points per possession when Moore acts as the pick-and-roll ball handler, also ‘excellent.’

Six games into his junior year, Moore carries the sixth-best player efficiency rating (30.6) of players who have played 175-plus minutes. Moore’s 30.9 assist percentage and 13.1 box plus/minus both lead the ACC among players with at least 75 minutes played.

“The game has definitely slowed down for me,” Moore said. “I feel I am really seeing the game at a higher level now opposed to last year. Being able to make reads and plays, I feel like I am doing a lot better now than I was last year.”

Moore’s jump has adjusted future plans

Moore entered the season firmly with a second-round grade for the 2022 NBA Draft. However, the fast start to the season has done wonders for Moore’s draft stock. Most draft analysts are starting to have conversations revolving around Moore as a first-round draft pick.

In analyzing Moore’s ability to defend, he is one of only eight D-1 players with an offensive rating over 135 and a defensive rating below 90. His once-ridiculed jump shooting is improving as well, currently hitting 33 percent from three and scoring 1.08 points per possession on spot-up jumpers.

With his game growing and confidence expanding, NBA front offices — always vying for potential — will fall in love with Moore’s upside and relative youth, having just turned 20 in September.

Though it took some time to get settled into life in the ACC, Moore’s winning mentality and work ethic are paying off in a big way.

Header image courtesy of Duke Athletics.