This is a part of our NBA Draft Prospect Review series where we evaluate the top players of the 2022 NBA Draft by reviewing every shot, assist, turnover, steal and rebound during their most recent collegiate season. Every writer was given access to game footage and asked to deliver their takeaways about the player in whatever manner they saw fit.
With the 2022 NBA draft lottery drawing approaching, fans are hoping the discussion around who the Detroit Pistons should take if they fall out of the top three will soon be put to bed. Until then, we are still evaluating options for if the Pistons miss out on a chance at the top guys. Up next in our prospect preview series: Jalen Duren.
Duren was a top prospect in the 2022 high school recruiting class before reclassifying and joining Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers for the 2021-22 collegiate season. Listed at 6-foot-11, 250-pounds, the big man posted per-game averages of 12 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks on 59.7% shooting from the field across 29 games in his lone year at Memphis. On April 18, Duren officially declared for the 2022 NBA draft.
One of the youngest prospects in this class (18.6 years old on draft day), Duren has been billed as a lock for the lottery ever since he reclassified. When diving into Duren’s film, that billing holds up. He’s an extremely impressive physical athlete with specific tools that will certainly translate into NBA production.
That said, my intent with Duren’s film review was not to confirm whether he was worthy of a top-14 draft pick. Rather, I wanted to get an in-depth look at a few specific areas of his game, with the hope of determining his potential fit with the Pistons and whether he makes sense as a prospect of interest for Detroit.
This evaluation brought mixed results.
On paper, an argument can be made that Duren could fill a need for the Pistons. Before the Marvin Bagley trade, fans were begging for Detroit to add a vertical threat to be on the receiving end of lobs from Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes. Even a quick glance at Duren’s film shows he’s plenty capable in that area.
Alex Lomax finds Jalen Duren for the alley-oop!— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 20, 2022
Tigers tie it up against (1) Gonzaga #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/yYw99KBQuC
While the need for a “jumpy-jump” guy was seemingly satisfied with the Bagley trade (and it looks at this point like Bagley will return to the Pistons next year), the issue with Bagley is on the defensive side of the ball. For all that he brings as a lob threat, he lacks the rim-protecting presence that would be ideal in Detroit’s big man.
By all accounts, Duren appears to have plenty of potential in that area – or at least more than Bagley does.
Jalen Duren flies in for the block and DeAndre Williams gets the and-one on the other end. #AmericanHoops | @Memphis_MBB— American MBB (@American_MBB) March 13, 2022
The problem for the Pistons, however, is that Duren will take a premium pick to acquire. As things stand, Detroit will leave the 2022 NBA draft with just one lottery prospect. Regardless of where that pick lands, the Pistons will likely place a premium on offensive production. That is the single greatest need for this Pistons team, and just about every lottery prospect offers more in the way of immediate and potential offensive value than Duren does.
Because of this, shy of the Pistons landing another lottery pick through a possible Jerami Grant trade, many fans do not view Duren as a legitimate option for the Pistons’ lottery pick.
At this stage, I would have to agree.
Duren’s physical tools are tantalizing. It’s impossible to watch some of Duren’s lobs at Memphis and not dream about Cunningham and Hayes throwing him alley-oops. It would be foolish to rule out the possibility of him turning into a very good NBA player.
That said, my takeaways from the film review confirmed what we already thought to be true. Impressive as Duren may be, he is not a fit for the premium lottery pick the Pistons tanked so hard to land this year.
If the Pistons somehow land a second lottery pick, he should absolutely be in the discussion as a real possibility.
Prior to reviewing the film, my perception of Duren aligned with the majority of draft pundits. My understanding was that he’s a truly impressive physical specimen – an above-average athlete with great size and strength who can rebound, defend, and be a vertical threat in the frontcourt. However, he’s billed as a traditional big man, lacking the ideal offensive repertoire of a modern NBA big.
To an extent, the film showed this to be true.
Still, the keyword with Duren is “potential” — on both sides of the ball. Is it feasible for him to grow into a decent offensive player at the NBA level? How valuable can he be as a rim protector in the NBA? Will his deficiencies get him played off the court?
The film session helped to answer some of these questions, but almost everything is still up in the air. Proper development will certainly be key with him. After watching the film, I do believe there is legitimate NBA talent inside Duren. It would do him well, however, to land in a spot that prioritizes his development and helps facilitate his growth. In the right scenario, Duren could come to be one of the top talents of this draft.
I want to take a closer look at Duren’s game on both sides of the ball to provide a more comprehensive idea of what the team that ultimately selects him will be getting on draft day.
As previously mentioned, a large portion of concerns surrounding Duren’s long-term projection revolves around his ability to contribute to the offensive end. Simply put, Duren’s current offensive skill set is not in line with what evaluators are looking for in a modern big man.
Now, that’s not to say there aren’t areas where Duren can provide value on offense. There are, and we’ll highlight those. But first, let’s talk about his areas of weakness.
For starters, Duren is, at this point, a non-shooter. And it’ll be an uphill battle to change that. He attempted just one three-pointer at Memphis, and any NBA team that drafts him will do so knowing that a five-out offense is not an option with Duren on the floor. Maybe there’s a world in which he develops a serviceable three-point shot sometime down the line. But it will take many years and a ton of hard work for that to become a possibility. For now, floor spacing is simply not a luxury Duren will provide.
A center lacking a three-point shot is one thing, but it’s awfully hard to be a positive contributor on offense in the NBA without any semblance of a jump shot. This will be a large determining factor in where Duren’s ceiling lands. Encouragingly, he showed some promise in the midrange towards the end of the season. He showcased a turnaround post fadeaway semi-often at the collegiate level and actually looked to have some decent mechanics with his faceup mid-range jumper.
These clips are important as they provide flashes of Duren being capable of developing a semi-reliable jumper. However, he’s not quite there yet. Though he was, at times, willing to pull the midrange jumper, it wasn’t often that it went in. He looked good the few times that it did, but he’s far too inconsistent with it at this stage for an NBA team to spend possessions on. He shot an uninspiring 62.5% from the free-throw line, which is often used as a sort of litmus estimation of how a player’s jumper will translate at the NBA level.
The silver lining with Duren’s shooting is the form. He’s no Dwight Howard or Shaq or – dare I say – Andre Drummond, whose respective shooting mechanics told scouts to not even bother trying to develop a jumper. Duren at least looks like he knows how to shoot a basketball. It inspires belief that he could get there someday, though he’s certainly not there now. At this point, the shooting remains a serious red spot in his prospect profile.
Beyond the shooting, Duren’s ball-handling ability falls in line with that of the traditional big man profile. It’s unreasonable to expect a near seven-footer to possess a plus handle, but Duren hardly looks comfortable with the few dribbles he takes per game. I wasn’t able to get a full read on his hands, but he does look awkward at times catching the ball or running the dribble handoff.
His strength makes him a capable post player, but he’s not proficient enough in that area to warrant NBA touches. He can easily punish his opponent if a guard is switched on him down low, and he has decent touch around the rim in general. But he’s not very savvy with his moves. He lacks any sort of finesse with his left hand and he hardly uses it, even when the defense gives it to him.
That sums up Duren’s main weaknesses on offense. Let’s move on to what he does well.
For all of his offensive deficiencies, his film showcases some obvious strengths as well. Duren’s passing surprised me. He’s a very capable passer out of the high post, and a willing passer in general. The execution isn’t always there, but the instincts are. Even in the low post, he seems to always be looking for an open shooter or cutter to set up. Passing is a vital skill for a modern NBA big man and one where Duren projects well.
His impressive physical profile is a major plus for his offensive capabilities. He’s a good rim-runner for his size and an absolute lob threat. Memphis didn’t use him in the pick-and-roll too often, but his large frame and physicality make it easy to see him excelling at the NBA level in that area. When Duren gets the ball in close to the basket or rises up for a lob, it’s over for the defense. He’s a great leaper and throws down dunks with thunderous force, a skill that will surely endear him to his future NBA team.
His physicality and athleticism will serve him well in the NBA. Truly, I can’t overstate what an impressive physical specimen he is. He often looked like a man among boys playing in the AAC. He’s a plus rebounder on both ends, as he is strong and agile enough to really put in work on the boards.
These skills are what make him a surefire lottery prospect. Even if the jumper never comes around, he’s a freak athlete who should provide value in the pick-and-roll, as a lob threat, and on the boards. Most NBA teams can find some sort of role for a player with those attributes. Factor in his youth, passing instincts and penchant for facing up his post opponent, and I wouldn’t say it’s a foregone conclusion that Duren will be a net negative on offense three years from now.
This will be the separator for Duren. There are plenty of athletic, rim-running big men who can work in the PnR and throw down lobs in the NBA. However, when a player can play that role on offense AND protect the rim at a high level, that makes for a valuable NBA player. This begs the question: can Duren be that kind of defensive stalwart at the NBA level?
The answer? I don’t know.
In watching his film, the eye test offers promising results. College players seldom wanted to attack Duren in the paint. He would often make drivers look foolish, swatting shots into the stands when a driver would challenge him. His long wingspan combined with impressive shot-blocking instincts would suggest he is capable of being a plus rim protector at the NBA level.
However, this is where Duren’s youth becomes a hindrance. He has a tendency to be overly physical on defense, which will no doubt lead to foul issues in the NBA. I anticipate that will be a major hurdle for Duren to overcome at the next level. I’m not concerned with his defensive IQ as a whole, but he has a habit of getting lost with his positioning at times. These are things that can certainly be addressed and improved on with proper development, but they remain a concern at this stage nonetheless.
I was impressed by his ability to switch out on the perimeter at the collegiate level. He will certainly have more difficulty sticking with NBA guards, but he moves his feet well for a big and gives good effort when guarding the perimeter. He can be late closing out on shooters but, again, this seldom stems from a lack of effort.
He is a hard worker in the post, though he doesn’t always position himself optimally to stop opposing big men down low. He’s often able to make up for this with his length, but it’s unlikely he will be able to rely on that in the NBA.
In general, I’m very intrigued with Duren’s potential as a rim protector at the NBA level. I believe with proper development and growth, Duren may have an outside shot at cracking an All-Defense team in his prime. That said, he certainly has work to do in getting there, and will likely struggle with foul trouble early in his career.
Two current NBA players come to mind for me when evaluating Duren’s film. Conveniently, these players can effectively be viewed as a sort of floor and ceiling for Duren at the NBA level. The two players are Mitchell Robinson (the floor) and Deandre Ayton (the ceiling).
It is far from a guarantee that Duren will grow into the caliber of NBA player that is Deandre Ayton. The Suns big man (for now) was much more polished on the offensive end coming out of Arizona. While he didn’t project as a plus shooter at the NBA level, he was far more capable in that area than Duren’s prospect profile.
Duren’s physical profile is a large reason Ayton came to mind when watching his film. At a chiseled 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, Ayton has a remarkably similar physical frame compared to Duren. They’re both above average athletes for their size who run the floor well with immense strength to boot. It’s easy to envision Duren having a similar impact as Ayton on the defensive end.
The big difference is how raw Duren is on the offensive side of the ball compared to Ayton coming out of college. He’s got a long way to go, but I believe there’s a chance Duren develops enough on the offensive end to hit his ceiling as physical, two-way big man like Ayton.
If Duren fails to make strides as an offensive player, I envision his floor being reflective of New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson. At 7-foot, 240 pounds, Robinson isn’t quite on the same tier as Ayton and Duren from an athletic standpoint. However, Duren’s game at this point is more reminiscent of Robinson.
A fellow non-shooter, Robinson makes his impact felt with rim protection, on the boards, and by catching lobs. That will have to be Duren’s M.O. at the NBA level, at least in the early stages of his career. Robinson can be played off the court due to his lack of shooting and perimeter defense, which is something Duren could be prone to falling into at the NBA level.
At this point, Duren is rawer than both of these players. That said, I’m fairly certain that his physical strengths will allow him to, at the very least:
- Be a lob threat in the PnR
- Rebound at a plus level
- Be an average-to-above average rim protector
Those qualities should give him a floor around Mitchell Robinson’s level. If he can be properly developed and grow offensively by:
- Expanding on his natural passing instincts into a plus playmaker out of the post
- Turning his decent raw shooting form into a workable midrange jumper
- Improving on his package of post moves and developing a touch with the left hand
He could feasibly reach a ceiling of a Deandre Ayton-type player.
I wouldn’t put it past him to make the latter happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the former occurred either. Only time will tell which way it goes.
How would he fit with the Pistons?
Interestingly, the two NBA comparisons I listed for Duren are both names that have been talked about as possibilities for the Pistons to sign with their open cap space this offseason. Instead of throwing a max offer sheet at Ayton, would it make sense to draft a discounted version of him in Jalen Duren?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. While he has the potential to turn into an Ayton caliber player, Duren is nowhere near ready to provide that value right now. He’s still very raw and should be viewed as more of a project player than someone ready to make an immediate impact.
I believe it’s unlikely that Duren is the player the Pistons walk away from this draft with, but let’s imagine a world where Detroit does trade Jerami Grant for another lottery pick. In a scenario where the Pistons get a guard like Jaden Ivey or Bennedict Mathurin with their first pick, Duren would make sense as their second lottery guy.
If that were to happen, Detroit would all of a sudden have a log jam in the frontcourt. Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jalen Duren are all essentially centers by trade, and Olynyk is the only one of the group with floor spacing qualities. In truth, it doesn’t make much sense for the Pistons to add a player like Duren and hang onto Bagley. If the team drafted Duren with the idea of giving him early minutes and developing him into a part of their long-term front court, it may spell the end of Bagley’s time with Detroit.
Of course, it is more likely that the Pistons do bring Bagley back, and this is all reason why Detroit would steer away from Duren. As much as I do believe Duren has a future in the NBA, Detroit probably isn’t the best landing spot for him, especially if the Pistons do end up with just one lottery draft pick.
With that pick, the Pistons need someone who can come in and contribute to winning, as Cade Cunningham and the rest of the team are ready to turn a corner this year. Duren isn’t that player right now. Rather, he would benefit from landing with a team that can afford to be patient with him and doesn’t necessarily need him to provide real value this year.
Come draft night, one NBA team is going to wind up with a very intriguing, high-potential young prospect in Jalen Duren. It’s unlikely, though, that the Pistons are that team.