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Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren shine in Detroit Pistons’ Summer League win over Blazers

Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart also excel in key roles

2022 NBA Summer League - Portland Trail Blazers v Detroit Pistons Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The first basket for the Detroit Pistons in 2022 Las Vegas Summer League was hopefully a sign of things to come for the franchise going forward. Rookie guard Jaden Ivey received the swing pass and tossed it toward the rim where a wide open Jalen Duren eagerly scooped up the pass and yammed the ball into the rim. The score was 2-0, but the impact of a simple alley oop is hard to explain to an excited fan base who decided to stay up past midnight (Detroit time) to get their first glimpse of the Pistons rookies.

And, luckily for the Pistons and their fans, there was plenty more where that came from. Ivey led the Pistons to a 81-78 win over the Blazers in a ref-induced slog of a game that featured more than 50 fouls, several delay of game calls, technicals and reviews.

When the final buzzer sounded past 2:30 a.m. no the East Coast, Ivey had notched a team-high 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists and hit all six of his free throws. He struggled early, with a few ugly perimeter shots and was clearly nervous and rushing a little bit. But he eventually found his groove and looked much more comfortable in the second half, particularly as a ball handler.

He had two key highlights — one which counted and another that didn’t. Ivey had a 40-foot heave with the clock winding down while receiving contact waved off as the refs determined he kicked his legs out. The one that did count, though, was Ivey at his best. He pushed the pace and tried to catch the Portland defense before it was able to set itself. Ivey split two defenders at the top of the key, shimmied past another and was a blur to the rim for an easy layup. It was a sign of what Ivey will rely on as he works to reach his potential — burst, handle and finishing ability. It’s a trio of skills the Pistons have been missing at guard for a long time, and was a welcome site, indeed.

Another element missing from Detroit was rim verticality and to that I say, welcome to Detroit, Jalen Duren. The 18-year-old might have been the youngest player in the NBA Draft, but during his first Summer League game, he looked like a man among boys. He was explosive to the rim with several big dunks and a couple of epic swats when Blazers deigned to try and score inside.

The first rule of Summer League is don’t overreact to Summer League, but Duren looked so good and so comfortable, I’m anxious to see how the Pistons are going to be able to find time for him on the floor this season with so many big men on the roster.

Duren was limited to just 12 minutes because he was only able to start practicing with the team earlier Thursday after the trade to acquire him became official, but that kind of size, power and gigantic catch radius is a fascinating new wrinkle to a team that has sorely lacked all those elements, and could help unlock the playmaking ability of Detroit’s young guards.

Other players who showed out nicely for Detroit were Isaiah Stewart who was able to feature his deep shooting stroke to the tune of canning 3-out-of-4 3-pointers, including two key makes in the fourth quarter. Killian Hayes also played well, though it doesn’t pop out of the box score. He showed a much tighter handle and was a decisive and creative passer. As a pair of third-year players in Summer League, you’d like to see them exert their will a little bit, and that is exactly what they did.

Braxton Key was another player who looked bigger, better and more confident than he did a season ago. Key scored 11 points, added 7 rebounds, 4 steals and two blocks and looked like a big 6-foot-8 out on the floor.

Of course, not everyone can play well and while some of the end-of-bench players were pretty invisible, Saben Lee and Isaiah Livers were noticeable for all the wrong reasons. Lee looked like a mess as a lead ball handler with tunnel vision, poor decisions and dominated the offense instead of getting others involved. Livers played decent defense, but the normally sure shot was absent. Livers was just 1-of-8 from deep, and many of the attempts weren’t particularly close.

The Blazers were led by Keon Johnson with 21 points. Rookie seventh overall pick Shaedon Sharpe played just six minutes and was removed after experiencing some shoulder discomfort.

Detroit’s next Summer League game is at the much more manageable time of 6 p.m. ET against the Washington Wizards on ESPN2.