Talk about opening your NBA career with a Bang:
Detroit Pistons Summer League Head Coach, Jordan Brink, drew up a nice little action that highlighted what Duren, and fellow rookie Jaden Ivey, do best, drawing oohs and aahs from the Las Vegas crowd.
When talking about what Jalen Duren does best RIGHT NOW, that vertical gravity is absolutely at the top of the list, and was on display time and time again in his 61 overall minutes. You can immediately see where this will come into play in ball screen situations, on the baseline (like that first play of the summer), and in transition. I mentioned in the immediate post-draft article that this not only will allow him to score, but puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense that will open up opportunities for the ball handler and weak side shooters. This, and more, is highlighted in the breakdown video below:
(I will use per 36 minutes for all of the stats in this article, but obviously we have to be careful with what those projections truly show when we are dealing with such limited minutes)
I do think Duren has a lot to work on in terms of the nuances of running ball screen and roll in the NBA. Again, this has been highlighted plenty, but he was not in the best situation at Memphis in terms of being used in this role, and therefore his overall possessions were lower than you would expect. For Duren, it will simply come down to getting more and more reps to figure out screen and re-screen, how hard to come out of the screen, reading the defense to short roll, etc. etc. There will also need to be some patience with his development in terms of overall finishing in the paint when it’s not a dunk.
Speaking of the short roll, Duren never got the opportunity to show off his passing in that situation specifically, but we did see the flashes in other situations. Most notably, he looked pretty comfortable running DHOs and throwing the backdoor pass. This is absolutely one of the more intriguing aspects of Duren’s offensive game, and one that I personally believe in. Even the transition behind the back pass he threw (that ended in a turnover) showed good vision and anticipation, he just will have to work on shoring up some of the execution and even knowing when to “turn down” those opportunities based on risk/reward.
As we continue to look at some other offensive aspects of Duren’s game, it is worth noting that he went 8 for 11 from the free throw line in his three games. We even saw him showcase some willingness to not only take mid range jumpers, but do it off the dribble and spin over his left shoulder. Although he did not make them at anything close to an efficient rate, it was good to see him trying those things in Summer League.
I also want to mention that those shots looked fluid and, in general, he missed short on those shots, which for me I would MUCH rather see than a miss left or right. I still think the shooting is a much longer term development than his passing, BUT I do think it is something he will eventually do at an NBA level.
Along with his shooting, we saw a few possessions of him able to face up, rip through, and attack downhill. He went to his patented drop step and reverse layup on a post up possession and averaged 1.8 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes (for comparison, Isaiah Stewart was at 1.9). All of these are just part of the overall offensive package we can hope to see Duren develop over his first handful of years in the league.
As we transition to the defensive side of the ball, I do want to note we didn’t get a chance to see Duren play much, if any, “drop” coverage. According to inSTAT, he actually had 0 possessions defending the PnR Roller, which means he was always switching out onto the ball handler. I mentioned in that post-draft article that one thing that intrigued me about Duren defensively was the potential to defend ball screens in a couple different ways. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get a chance to see him in drop during his three games.
Because we saw the Pistons switch so much, though, we did get quite a few possessions of Duren trying to hold up on the ball on the perimeter. I think what he showed is pretty much what I personally expected. I have been decently high on his long term potential to be able to be switchable and he showed possessions to back that up, along with possessions that showed areas for improvement. One thing to note is he did average 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes and a majority of those fouls did come while defending on the perimeter, with half of them directly when switching in ball screen coverage. Some of those were simply from reaching and being a little too aggressive, BUT I still would hate to see his opportunities to be on the floor during the season be limited because of foul trouble brought on by these situations.
You also absolutely want to find ways to keep Duren close to the rim and use him as a weak side rim protector. Again, it was in very limited possessions, but we did get a couple of these highlight weak side blocks. All of these different aspects of his defensive game make me intrigued to see how Coach Casey, Coach Allen, and the Pistons see his most effective role within the defensive scheme. Or do you put him in multiple roles, with the Pistons AND the Motor City Cruise, to continue to develop that all-around defensive game.
The area of Duren’s defensive game that stood out the most in a negative way was on the defensive boards. I have tweeted out a few clips of him missing box outs and this is in line with his college film as well. This strikes me as a case of him always just being bigger and jumping higher than his opponents, so he has never had to put a premium on some of the technical sides of defensive rebounding, as well as simply having an attacking mentality on every missed shot. Just for some context, Stewart averaged 9.4 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, Braxton Key averaged 7.4, and Isaiah Livers averaged 4.8... all of which were more than Duren’s 4.7 defensive rebounds per 36. This is absolutely an area of his game where he can start to make more and more of an impact quickly.
I want to finish by reminding everyone, and myself, that Duren will be the youngest player in the NBA to start the season. So many of these “areas for improvement” are to be expected. I do not want any of them to sound like critiques or major negatives but simply wanted to highlight those aspects of his game that may not quite be NBA ready…..yet, and that is absolutely okay and expected.
I still go back and forth daily on whether I think he will be part of the Pistons rotation or spend time in the G League with the Motor City Cruise. My best guess is that we will see him playing with both, maximizing the amount of minutes played in his rookie year, which is vital for his development. He can showcase those NBA ready skills with the Pistons, providing that vertical gravity at the rim, and then work on those other skills for his all around offensive and defensive game during his minutes with the Cruise. My excitement around this young man has not changed one bit after getting a look at him in Las Vegas and I can not wait for this fanbase to get to watch his developmental path and growth.