Jalen Duren, the 13th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, will be the youngest player in the NBA this season. Marvin Bagley III’s bone bruise and sprained MCL means that Duren will see rotation minutes almost immediately, despite that fact. Troy Weaver kept telling us that Duren was more ready than we thought. And now, we’ll get to see if Troy was right.
So far, preseason results have been uneven but positive for such a young player. Duren has led the team (and the NBA) in rebounding, and he has flashed decision-making ability that would make him more than Just Another Rim Runner. However, he’s fallen into the classic young big man traps as well - fouling too much, biting on pump fakes, occasionally just trying to block everything in sight.
We know that 18-year-olds are usually very bad NBA players - even if they don’t stay that way forever. So, as we struggle to keep our expectations somewhere south of “NEXT SHAWN KEMP!?!?!?!?!?!” for Duren, here are three things we can look for during his rookie season.
Know Your Role, Jalen Duren
Improve on the Little Stuff
It’s unreasonable to expect Jalen Duren to be a master of the finer, technical points of the position right away. So, to me, that’s the single most important thing he needs to take away from this season.
Things like how to patrol center field; playing the ball, the driver, and the roller simultaneously in Drop coverage. Things like how to box out properly, and making sure you make the effort to do so consistently. Things like how to keep your hands up (and out! you got long arms, use ‘em!) and feet moving - without fouling - on switches. Things like finding a rhythm and routine (and a shooting motion) that enables you to shoot better at the free throw line.
Oh, and learn all that stuff while your NBA peers are smack-talking you, dunking on you when you make mistakes, working the refs (who don’t know you at all) against you, leveraging the, uh, less “fine” points of being an NBA big against you, and just generally dogging you.
...No one said learning would be easy. Or fun. Speaking of “fun:”
Life of an NBA Player 101
Duren is going to travel to more places in one year than he’s ever traveled to in one year in his life. He’s going to play more games in a single season than he’s ever played in his life, and he’s going to play all of those games against the best players he’s ever seen in his life. And, correspondingly, Jalen Duren will probably hit the rookie wall and be the most tired he’s ever been in his entire life.
The NBA regular season is a long, hard road. Longtime vets talk about how the season is a grind. Even the beat writers, who just travel - don’t play games, don’t practice (I mean, they GO to practice, but they’re not practicing) - talk after the season about how wiped they are. Young guys have the benefit of youth, but the grind still will grind you down.
So, it will be imperative that Jalen Duren learn how to manage the grind. That he pull from the minds of Nerlens Noel, Rashard Lewis, and Isaiah Stewart strategies and methods to mitigate the effects of a long season. The better you can recover from the grind, the more experience you can get on the court, practicing the little things.
Just Be Yourself
When Duren’s on the court, though, it can’t be all just learning experiences. It doesn’t have to all be little things. He’s also got to be himself, the fearsome, uber-athletic, violent rim punisher and shot blocker the Pistons drafted him to be.
Spike a ball into the fourth row so guards don’t want to drive the lane. Dunk so hard the opposing coach has to call a timeout to rally the troops and quiet the Little Caesars Arena crowd. Rumble down the lane with so much force that guys cede open layups to Cade Cunningham. Crash the offensive glass so hard, teams have to commit guys to keep you off the glass, slowing the opposition’s transition attack.
You know, fun stuff.
There will definitely be flashes of the more exciting stuff Jalen Duren has to offer this season. The flashes will be tempered with a lot of fouls and playing out of position. But, ultimately, all Jalen Duren has to do to be a part of this Detroit Pistons long-term core is to keep learning and growing his game. If he does that, the glow up is going to come.