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Jalen Duren’s playmaking could propel him to one of league’s best big men

Wise beyond his years, the 19-year-old big man led all rookie centers in assists this season

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

When first laying eyes on Jalen Duren, you can’t help but marvel at the pure size and strength of the Detroit Pistons rookie. Listed at an imposing 6-foot-10 with enviable strength and vertical pop, Duren was unlike most first-year big-men.

Athletically gifted centers usually lack the strength required to battle on the interior, whilst physically imposing bigs traditionally lack the bounce to challenge athletic foes. Not Duren.

The 13th overall selection in last year’s NBA Draft led all rookies in rebounds per game (8.9) and dunks (157). A testament to his forceful approach in Year One.

While his affinity for excelling at his prototypical responsibilities garnered most of the attention, the coverage surrounding Duren’s successful rookie campaign mostly failed to highlight perhaps his most intriguing skill — passing.

Denver Nuggets v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Throughout the pre-draft process, analysts noted the encouraging playmaking flashes shown by Duren as a freshman with Memphis. However, this particular element of his game was thought of as a long-term development area.

Most wouldn’t have predicted 23 games with multiple assists for the teenage rookie, 11 of which Duren dished out 3 or more helpers.

Jalen Duren’s 1.1 assist average from this season won’t blow you away, but after going back and watching all the available tape, it’s clear the 19-year-old is ahead of the developmental curve as a distributor.

Duren exhibits all the traits of a dribble hand-off maestro

At first glance, a dribble hand-off—better known as ‘DHO’—appears mundane.

Shoveling the ball between big and guard as they brush shoulders doesn’t exactly make it onto a mixtape. But a well-executed DHO has potential to create numerous offensive advantages. Particularly if the big executing the hand-off is able to read and react in a split second like Jalen Duren.

Due to the handoff’s routine nature, defenses are susceptible to ‘going through the motions’ when preparing to defend the action, providing opportunity for an in-sync offensive duo to pounce:

In the above clip, Duren approaches Isaiah Livers for what appears to be an empty corner dribble handoff. Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam begins sliding toward Duren in anticipation of a DHO, however, Livers slips back-door with a baseline cut and assisted with a perfectly timed bounce pass from Duren.

Not once does Livers have to break stride on his way to the basket, a credit to Duren’s awareness and execution. A lesser passer might not of had the processing capacity to read the situation and drop an on point pass to their cutting teammate.

Duren’s prowess as a DHO hub flourished when paired with veteran teammate Bojan Bogdanovic. The dribble hand-off tandem formed sneaky good chemistry with Bogdanovic’s shooting ability and Duren’s size and court vision:

Here, Bogdanovic and Duren catch Charlotte Hornets defender Kelly Oubre with a fake DHO, which leads to a strong Duren screen and ends with three points for Bogdanovic. Duren sells the fake with perfection and provides a well-timed re-screen, freeing Bogdanovic for the open three.

The rookies feel, timing and execution in this instance are crucial in creating ample space for Bogdanovic to launch a high percentage shot.

Duren will always find the open man in short-roll situations

The short-roll is defined as; A pick-and-roll in which the roller stops short (often near the free-throw line), receives a pass from the ball-handler, and makes plays for his teammates from there.

Sounds simple, but not all big-men are capable of making the requisite reads in such plays.

Receiving the ball within the heart of the defense more often than not invites intense pressure. Pressure that can easily fluster an ill-equipped big to panic and hoist a rushed shot, or worse, cough up the possession.

While Duren is still levels below short-roll masters like Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis, he made a number of high-level reads when rolling toward the basket.

Part of the difficulty in ‘short-rolling’ is computing the play ahead, whilst moving at speed through the courts most congested area.

Once the roll-man receives the pass they have three options; drive and score, stop and attempt a 5-10ft floater or pass to a corner shooter. Before choosing an avenue though, the roller needs to assess which pathway the defense is offering. All this needs to occur in a split second.

The delicacy of the this process makes this clutch short-roll dime from Duren even more impressive:

Duren immediately recognizes the Charlotte Hornets defender leave the corner to tag the roll and intuitively sprays a corner pass to Bey for what would be the game-winning play.

Not bad for a 19 year-old.

Duren’s rebounding generates timely offense for Detroit

Nothing is guaranteed in life, but Jalen Duren leading the league in rebounds for multiple years feels like a contender. Based on the teenager’s size and statue, it’s no surprise he averaged a double-double (10.5 points & 10.6 rebounds) as a starter.

What’s surprising is that 18% of Duren’s assists were generated via an offensive rebounds.

In most instances, players who haul in an offensive rebound are normally looking to quickly put the ball back in the hoop. Which is often the right decision.

However, there are times where the defense surrounding the basket might warrant a kick-out pass to reset the offense. Something thats easier said than done in the heat of battle, especially in clutch situations.

In the case of Duren, he displayed a veteran level of calmness when hauling in crucial offensive boards. Often gathering himself, before diagnosing the play with an astute pass.

Per, three of his four assists distributed in ‘clutch’ time were on the back of an offensive rebound:

The presence of mind displayed in each of these clips to briefly survey the floor prior to passing is simply unnatural for a player under the age of 20.

Not only will teams need to ensure they limit Duren put-backs in clutch situations, but their perimeter defense will need to be intact to deal with the threat of a second-chance assist.

A valuable weapon for the Detroit coaching staff to deploy in crunch-time.

Whilst Duren’s explosive athleticism and herculean frame naturally position him to become a dominant rim-running behemoth, it’s his court vision and playmaking abilities at the age of only 19 which should leave Piston fans salivating at the limitless potential of Jalen Duren.