Oh, how quickly the Jerami Grant trade narrative changed. Wednesday night when it broke that Grant had been traded to the Blazers for a 2025 1st, a move up in the 2nd round, and a couple of future 2nds, I think it left the entire fanbase hoping that there was going to be an ensuing move that made it all come full circle. Fast forward 24 hours to the end of the NBA Draft Lottery on Thursday night and it all made sense as Troy Weaver worked his magic and flipped that 2025 1st rounder to acquire 18-year-old big man Jalen Duren!
If adding Jaden Ivey wasn’t enough infusion of athleticism to this roster with the No. 5 pick, Troy Weaver made sure that would not be the case after moving back into the lottery and selecting Duren. I can’t help but wonder if watching what the acquisition of Marvin Bagley III unlocked for the offense, specifically Cade and Killian, made the big man that much more enticing to Weaver.
Being a pick-and-roll lob threat for those young guards is something that Duren will immediately bring to the roster. While I may have some questions around Duren’s more nuanced abilities in the PnR, you have to be excited about the 1.52 PPP (points per possessions) he recorded as the roll man. The sheer gravity he will have in these situations because of his ability to catch and finish lobs at the rim will greatly benefit both Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.
That gravity will put a lot of pressure on the defense to either tag him as the roll guy thus leaving a weak side shooter open, stay home as the ballscreen post defender thus leaving the ball handler with an advantage, or give up the aforementioned lob to the rim. It is also important to note that we may not have seen the full impact Duren could have in these situations last season because Memphis was working without a true point guard to operate in ball screens and questionable spacing at times.
Before we talk about the other PlayTypes where that vertical pop shows up for Duren, I want to touch on the short roll game. In terms of his ability to score in these situations, I think the jury is still out. As I mentioned, he was not always put in the best situation to be successful, AND he did not always put himself in the best spot to receive the pass and score. When he was in a good position, he was also not highly efficient. This is definitely an aspect of his offensive game that needs to come around and would be huge for his overall offensive impact.
On the other hand, the short-roll passing was something we saw enough of to have a little bit more of a feel for. While at times Duren can go for the “home run” pass or struggle with accuracy, he did show the ability to see the read that needed to be made and if you watch the game vs Houston you would walk away sold that the short roll passing game is very real.
Getting back to his ability as a lob threat, this showed up as well in the dunker spot and in transition. I do not mean to “put down” Isaiah Stewart but think about the amount of dump-off passes from Killian Hayes or Cade that looked like a sure two points that did not end up that way. Those types of situations will most assuredly end up with an alley-oop or 1-step dunk for Jalen Duren. The same is true in transition where his body control and lob finishing really get to shine. These two things, combined with his offensive rebounding and previously mentioned PnR Roller, showcase the variety of ways in which Duren can be used to be a play finisher.
With that said, Duren does come in as an unfinished product in some areas. I have raved throughout this article about his dunks and alley-oop finishing, BUT when those are not available he did struggle this past year finishing around the rim with layups. He is definitely going to have to find just a little bit of finesse and touch to add to his game when dunking the ball simply isn’t an option.
I mentioned he is a good play finisher but there was definitely not anything in his game that made you think play creator, even in post-up situations. He was very inefficient and really only seemed to have a drop step reverse move in his “bag.” Again, I will continue to stress that he is only 18 and will not even turn 19 until November. That leaves plenty of time to grow in these areas as well as his shooting which I think is going to be a multi-year process.
I don’t want this article to pit MBIII and Jalen Duren against each other, but if I had to pinpoint the biggest area of difference, it would be on the defensive end of the floor. I am actually of the belief that Duren can provide quality ball-screen defense with a couple different coverages. I think he will be a good “drop coverage” defender with his length and vertical pop along with his ability to stop his momentum and contest jump shots when necessary. I also think there is truly some upside to play “switch coverage,” the Pistons defense of choice for most of last season, especially as he continues into his career. There were just enough possessions I saw on film where I think he, again, can stop his momentum and change direction to stay in front and at least contest shots.
I was also very intrigued by his overall rim protection, not just the shot-blocking which was obviously impressive. He was already showing an ability to play with “verticality” which is something every big must learn to stay out of foul trouble, admittedly something Duren did struggle with at times but mostly came from unnecessary and “silly” fouls. The other aspect that really stood out to me was I did not feel like he chased blocks and really did a nice job of not overcommitting as the help defender. I think sometimes shot blockers can get a little block happy and start committing to the block when it’s not necessary which can lead to unnecessary offensive rebounds on the weak side. This was not something Duren did very often which I really liked seeing.
If I had to highlight just a couple of areas for improvement on the defensive end, they would be a little bit more of a consistent “motor” and he has to box out. I know “motor” is kind of one of those buzzwords when doing NBA Draft scouting but I do think at times he left some plays on the floor on the offensive and defensive ends. Yet again, maybe it was just a young player still getting the grasp of the game, maybe he didn’t quite understand the conditioning it would take to play at the level necessary but it was something I noticed and just something to keep an eye on. And I know boxing out sounds like such a middle school thing but he won’t be able to just rely on his physical tools to grab rebounds in the league. There were games where his lack of attention to detail in boxing out defensively cost his team some possessions and it’s a “small” thing that I will be watching from him even as early as summer league in early July.
I actually think Jalen Duren has a very high floor because at the very least he defends at a good level and provides gravity at the rim as a lob threat in a variety of situations. If he becomes more than that it really comes down to the development in the short roll, some finesse finishing, shooting and fine-tuning on the defensive end to see what the absolute ceiling can be. I honestly have no idea if this changes the off-season plans for Marvin Bagley III, or the pursuit of DeAndre Ayton but I do feel comfortable saying that Troy Weaver has already added a very exciting young player to the big man mix and I can not wait to see how he is utilized.