The Detroit Pistons landed two high-upside prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft. With the fifth overall pick, Detroit selected Purdue guard Jaden Ivey. The most electrifying player in the draft class, Ivey offers the Pistons a potential star backcourt partner for Cade Cunningham.
Detroit’s draft night was not over with the selection of Ivey. Pistons’ GM Troy Weaver pulled the trigger on a trade with a desperate New York Knicks team looking to shed salary. Weaver acquired Memphis big man Jalen Duren and veteran guard Kemba Walker in exchange for a 2025 first-round pick, which Detroit landed after sending Jerami Grant to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Walker’s contract has since been bought out, but Duren was the real prize. The 18-year-old center is the youngest prospect in the 2022 draft class. He has a prototypical frame standing at 6-10, 250 pounds with a 7-5 wingspan.
By all accounts, Duren and Ivey were the two players sitting at the top of Detroit’s draft board with the fifth pick. By the end of draft night, Weaver had acquired both prospects.
During the pre-draft process, I had written a scouting report for Ivey. Of all the scouting reports I produced, Duren was not one of them. It was an oversight on my end as I mostly looked at players projected to go around the fifth pick.
But, now I am here to make amends. Duren is an incredible defensive prospect with a lot of room to grow on the offensive end. At such a young age, time is on his side to develop. He might need some seasoning in the G-League for some of the upcoming 2022-23 season, but he has the potential to be an All-Star level talent.
Jalen Duren can be a defensive anchor
Defense is where Duren shines on the basketball court.
At Memphis, he was a lockdown rim protector. He averaged 2.1 blocks in his lone collegiate season. Duren combines great timing with natural instincts to swat away shot attempts. His 7-5 wingspan gives him a wide radius to cover on block attempts. He has a knack for coming out of nowhere for a chase-down block as well.
Duren has the size to hold his own in the post. The young center does a great job of playing vertical when contesting shots, making it difficult to finish over him. Obviously, the NBA’s best big men in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic will take advantage of his inexperience, but against most NBA centers, Duren’s size and shot-blocking ability will give him a chance.
Duren displayed good pick-and-roll coverage in college. Memphis had him running multiple pick-and-roll coverages, but Duren showed great ability in drop coverage. He goads the ball-handler into driving to the basket where he is able to block their attempt at the rim.
If he is switched onto the perimeter, Duren is not a liability; however, you definitely do not want him living out there. He does not over-commit, and he does a suitable job of sticking in front of the ball-handler. His lateral quickness is lacking, but he does a good enough job moving his feet to not get exposed on the perimeter.
Duren still has room to grow as a defender
Duren has a propensity to get into foul trouble. He is an inexperienced 18-year-old center with the role of a rim protector, so it is not surprising he commits more than his fair share of fouls. He averaged 2.7 fouls per game at Memphis, and he fouled out of two games.
It will be no surprise if Duren’s foul trouble follows him to the next level. Honestly, it should be expected. He needs time to learn how to play the game at the NBA level. Early on in his career, that learning experience will mean he finds himself in foul trouble more often than he would like. With time and adjustment that will change. A lot of the best defenders in the league had to make that adjustment. Duren can do it too.
Duren also over-helps at times. He finds himself in no man’s land, not quite able to help on the double team, but leaving too much space for his man to get an easy look at the rim. Duren needs to work on his discipline and know when to stick to his man and when the opportunity to play help defense presents itself. Much like his foul issues, this will come with experience.
Jalen Duren has a lot of offensive potential
Duren is an incredible athlete. In the pick-and-roll, he is a dangerous rim runner and lob threat. A lot of his highlight plays from Memphis were him finishing a dunk after a teammate lobbed the ball up to him.
On the boards, Duren is aggressive. He consistently collects rebounds through heavy traffic in the paint. The big man averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college. Duren takes advantage of these second-chance opportunities with put-back attempts or dishing it out to the perimeter.
Duren has the makings of a solid passing big man. No, he will not reach the likes of Jokic as a passing center, but he can make really good reads out of the post. Duren averaged 1.3 assists per contest this past season. Playmaking will likely never be a huge part of Duren’s game, but it is always a good thing to have a big man who can make good reads on dump-offs or kick-outs from the paint.
Duren’s offensive game needs developing
In the post, Duren is not quite as dangerous as he is as a rim runner. Posting up simply is not something he did often at Memphis. When he did have those opportunities, the results varied from promising to not so much.
At this point in his career, Duren simply does not have the moveset or touch around the rim to be a consistent post scorer. He struggled the most around the rim against longer opponents. Defenders with long wingspans were able to disrupt his shots, and the 18-year-old struggled to finish around them.
With time, Duren can certainly add the necessary post moves and develop a softer touch around the rim. As those areas improve, he will become a better option as a post scorer, but at this time, he is not there yet.
Duren flashed a decent mid-range game at Memphis, but he will need to continue growing this part of his game to become a more well-rounded offensive player. Stretching the floor as a three-point shooter is not on the table at this point in his young career. Duren only attempted one shot from beyond the arc at Memphis. He missed it. However, continuing to build a stronger mid-range game will help Duren become a more versatile player for Detroit to utilize in the offense.
Duren struggled with turnovers at Memphis. The 18-year-old averaged 2.2 turnovers per game, a lot for a big man. Much like his fouling issues, the turnovers are likely to follow Duren early on in his career, and just like his fouling issues, the best way to improve is with experience.
Jalen Duren’s fit in Detroit
The Pistons have a potential All-Star talent in Duren, but the 18-year-old needs time. He has the size and athleticism of a prototypical center, but he lacks experience. He is a capable rim protector with some switchability, but he has lapses on defense. Duren is a lob threat out of the pick-and-roll, but the rest of his offensive game needs work.
Do not expect Duren to start right away in Detroit. The Pistons have Isaiah Stewart, who is more than capable of playing a starting role. Is Stewart the full-time answer at center moving forward? That depends on how his game grows. He is a great defensive player, and his switchability is incredibly valuable in the modern NBA. His potential as a floor spacer could open up opportunities as a four rather than a five.
Duren has a chance to unseat Stewart as Detroit’s starting center, but that moment is unlikely to come early on. The young big man needs time and seasoning to develop his game. It would not be a total surprise if Duren spent some time with the Motor City Cruise in the G-League.
The acquisition of Nerlens Noel via trade with the New York Knicks gives Duren a good mentor to learn from. Noel is a solid rim protector. He is not the best, but Duren can learn from him. Noel is likely to be the backup center behind Stewart to open up the season. Duren is likely behind Noel in the depth chart. If Duren makes major strides in his development over the course of the season, he could overtake Noel for the backup spot.
Duren is not going to be an All-Star player right out of the gate. There is a chance he does not even see a lot of minutes right away. Duren has a lot of potential, but he needs time before he is ready to make his mark on the league.
(Featured Image Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)