Jalen Duren: Detroit's Diamond in a Messy Frontcourt

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Jalen Duren: Detroit's Diamond in a Messy Frontcourt


Jalen Duren: Detroit's Diamond in a Messy Frontcourt


The Detroit Pistons approach to their frontcourt has left many scratching their heads. How will a tandem of four extremely young bigs that can’t space the floor possibly fit together? 

General manager Troy Weaver once said, “I love bigs.” But no matter how deep Weaver’s affection for bigs is (particularly those of the old-school mold), he’ll be forced to pick a favorite or two and depart from the rest. Luckily, Detroit is in the midst of rebuilding – thus lots of losing – so they’ve got time to figure it all out.

James Wiseman & Marvin Bagley III have both failed to live up to #2 overall pick status. Bagley is a poor defender and an awkward offensive fit that will probably never be a ceiling raiser or reliable rotation piece on a competitive, contending team. 

Wiseman has more promise in my eyes, as he’s years younger than Bagley, has more upside on both ends of the court, and gives too much effort with too many tools for me to see him completely fizzling out of the league. It will take some more time, but he should develop into a depth option as consistency begins to follow course.

Isaiah Stewart has established himself as a reliable depth big in the NBA that began to willingly shoot the three this past season, averaging over four attempts per game. He still profiles as a traditional energy big man, but the shooting willingness was encouraging to see in a frontcourt that severely lacks shooting gravity & appeal.

So, I’m low on Bagley, think Wiseman should develop into a rotational piece, while Stewart has already matured into a reliable depth big man. And then there’s the clear gem of the bunch (in my opinion): Jalen Duren.

Detroit selected Duren with the #13 overall pick in last year’s draft. On my big board, I had him as my #7 ranked prospect. I viewed him highly in the draft process, and all those reasons I loved Duren throughout last year’s draft circuit popped up on numerous occasions throughout his rookie year.

First off, we’re talking about legit all-defensive team upside here. As a rim protector, Duren has the wingspan (7’5”), verticality (42” vertical-leap), and awareness to both get himself in the right spots and direct traffic on the front end. And good luck posting up against his ripped 250 pound frame.

He’s not just some rim protecting, drop coverage center though. Duren has legit switch-ability to contain ball-handlers on the perimeter. His foot speed and hip flexibility are extremely impressive for a player his size, and he has the length & athleticism to recover when he does get beat.

His game on the offensive end isn’t as far along in comparison to his defense, but there’s still lots to like. With his size and explosive athleticism, Duren puts tons of vertical stress on defenses around the rim. A constant lob threat in transition, out of the dunkers spot, and off the roll.

As a screener, Duren’s massive frame serves as a huge tool. His 3.8 screen assists per game was tied for 13th most in the NBA last season, and he wasn’t even fully utilized in this department. The Pistons were towards the bottom-third of the league in pick-and-rolls last season, which explains why Duren was utilized as a roll-man on just 1.4 possessions per game. He did well on this smaller sample size though, finishing above the 70th percentile in efficiency.

And as you’d expect, he’s a handful for opponents to deal with on the glass. He hauled in 4.2 contested rebounds per game, 13th most in the NBA this season. He pops on the offensive end as well, as he’s already begun establishing himself as one of the league’s premier offensive rebounders. He was fifth in offensive rebounds & contested offensive rebounds per game this year.

His length, strength, and athleticism automatically puts him in the play for rebounding opportunities, but Duren developed a nice feel for when to settle in around the basket late in a possession to establish early position in case an offensive rebounding opportunity arose. His touch around the basket could stand to improve, but if Duren had the opportunity to either slam home a dunk or find an open cutter/spot-up shooter off the mad scramble of an offensive board, he capitalized.

The Pistons transition offense was subpar this past season, but Duren certainly isn’t to blame. I’ve already detailed the vertical explosion around the basket, but he can move up and down the floor with ease, making him an extremely effective rim-runner that can get up in the break, fill lanes, and serve as a dangerous lob threat. In terms of efficiency, Duren finished in the 83rd percentile in transition offense this season.

It’s not just the above the rim play-finishing either. Duren’s flashes as a passer are super enticing. Does he have his hiccups? From an occasional lapse in judgment or passing accuracy going awry, you bet he does. But the flashes are extremely enticing, and his development in this department has been quite rapid since the beginning of his Freshman year at Memphis.

His passing is at its best off the short roll, where Duren’s gravity can draw in double-teams and open up teammates. This is just another aspect of Duren’s game that’s going to make him a really good roll-man in due time.

Not only does he profile as the starting center of the future, but Duren has legitimate star upside. Elite, switchable defensive anchor with high-end rebounding, play-finishing, and I believe he’ll develop into a really nice passer. And don’t forget, Duren is extremely young. Extra emphasis on “extremely.” He’s just 19 years old with a season of NBA experience already under his belt, and was the youngest active player in the NBA last season.

Amongst this messy frontcourt of young, toolsy type of big men, Jalen Duren shines bright above the bunch. Detroit’s got a special young center that should serve as a roster pillar, building block – whatever you want to call it – moving forward.

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