Wendell Moore Jr. shines in 1st start for Timberwolves
The rookie learned he would be making his 1st NBA start just before tipoff against Memphis
MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Edwards was the unquestioned star of the night Wednesday at Target Center in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ win over Memphis. Yet in multiple interviews, on the court with Bally Sports North immediately after the game’s conclusion and then again with reporters in the locker room, Edwards deflected attention in another direction.
Edwards knew a certain rookie more than deserved some of the spotlight.
“Wendell Moore, man,” Edwards said. “Huge impact tonight. All credit goes to him.”
Wendell Moore Jr. was selected by Minnesota with the 26th pick in the NBA Draft in June. He had yet to see any valuable NBA minutes ahead of Wednesday’s contest, and had zero inclination that would change that evening.
Yet when Jaden McDaniels was a late scratch because of an illness, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch made the surprising choice to turn to the rookie wing — not just to play, but to start.
“I was definitely surprised,” Moore Jr. said. “Literally happened like 10 minutes prior to our pregame meeting. … I came here and it was just another day. Came to get my work in. I was going to cheer my teammates on and just get this win. Once I got the news, I knew I had to shift my mindset into gear and be ready to go.”
Finch said he wanted to start someone who could guard Memphis star guard Ja Morant. In all reality, he wanted to start someone who could guard anyone. Minnesota’s perimeter defense has been a major bugaboo through the first quarter of the season.
Tasking a rookie with stopping one of the game’s most electric players may seem like a fool’s errand, but Moore Jr. rose to the challenge. Morant was held to 8-for-20 shooting while committing seven turnovers.
“I thought he had outstanding position,” Finch said of Moore. “He picked him up, he kind of slowed him down, he got him in the direction that we wanted him to go. He didn’t try to overpressure him or anything, he did a great job of containing.”
Moore knew the scouting report because he had devoured it prior to the contest, despite not knowing he’d be able to put it to use. He had watched Memphis’ last couple of games to pick up on Morant’s tendencies. That’s more prep than a number of NBA regular rotation players put in.
“You never know when your time is going to come,” Moore said. “For me, I just always want to be ready.”
Specifically, ready to guard the other team’s best player. That’s why he believes he’s in Minnesota — to be an elite defender.
“That’s something I want to do. I love that,” Moore said. “It helps my team out. It helps the guys around me a lot. It takes a lot of pressure off Ant, so he doesn’t have to always guard the best player. It takes the pressure off D-Lo. He don’t always have to guard the point guard. I’m just finding my role around here, so I like it.”
The rookie put all of his focus onto the defensive end in the first half. But as the game progressed, Finch saw Moore become more comfortable and contribute in all areas. Moore was physical on the glass, and even started to contribute offensively. He scored seven points, all in the third quarter.
“My first mindset when I got out there was really just do my job on Ja, do my job on Ja,” Moore said. “But offensively, honestly I wasn’t there offensively. I just wanted to focus in defensively. In the second half we came in the locker room, and all the guys told me to be aggressive, just be me. I started going a little more in the second half, went out there and did a little more, did a little extra.”
Rudy Gobert said Moore didn’t play like a rookie in a big spot Wednesday. Importantly for Minnesota, Moore made his impact with physicality and effort, something the Wolves have needed desperately for weeks.
“That’s my main thing, just go in there and put forth the effort,” Moore said. “The ball rewards effort, the game rewards effort.”
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