Jalen Duren is exceeding everyone’s expectations

Detroit Bad Boys

With a shade under five minutes to play in the first quarter of the recent clash with the Golden State Warriors, Jalen Duren, the Detroit Pistons big man, made a beeline towards the basket whilst tracking a Killian Hayes jumper.

The restricted area was already occupied by a pair of Warriors bigs with one goal — keep the board away from Detroit’s 6-foot-10, 19-year-old man among boys. In only 39 games, Duren’s reputation already requires opponents to send reinforcements to the paint in an attempt to box out the 250-pound big man.

As Hayes’ jumper caromed off the rim, Duren jostled with Kevon Looney—an excellent positional rebounder—and Anthony Lamb, before soaring above and tapping the rebound back to Hayes, who converted the second-chance opportunity.

Duren’s relentlessness on the glass has impressed many, including his coach:

“He’s got two guys on him and still going to get the rebounds and finishing…I’m happy with JD, he’s a bright spot.”

The aforementioned rebound was one of a team-high 11 boards, a category Duren has lead in 12 of 15 games as a starter. His double-digit rebounding total also set another NBA record, something that has become a common occurrence for the league’s youngest player.

While fans have become accustom to their rookie big’s record-breaking ways, it was only months ago the expectation was Duren would play primarily as a reserve or maybe even get seasoning in the G League. And though injuries have played a part in an expanded role, Duren’s presence on the interior has filled a void for Coach Casey.

“He has a natural knack to rebound and that is something you can’t teach. Marvin Bagley went down…and the young kid just kept growing and growing and growing, and took advantage of the opportunity and is now starting. It’s good to see and it is fun to coach him.”

Duren has grasped each opportunity the coaching staff has presented him, his physical prowess has been the primary source for early success. But, there’s also plenty of intrigue surrounding the rookie’s long-term potential and how good he can be.

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Catalysts for success

Duren is a mountain of a man (or should I say teenager). He’s listed at 6-foot-10, weighs 250 pounds, has a 7-5 wingspan and can jump out of the gym with his 42-inch vertical leap.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that his ability to consume rebounds and lock down the painted area have been the main catalysts for his early season success. With his head coach stating:

“I said before the season his gift is going to transfer a lot quicker…his gift is rebounding, protecting the rim and that young man is doing a mans job on the boards. I can’t ask enough of Jalen Duren.”

Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Duren has hauled in 11.2 rebounds a contest, ranking seventh in the NBA since Dec. 9. The Memphis product has driven opposing coaches mad with his knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and cashing in on second chance opportunities:

As Detroits starting center, Duren is averaging 4.2 offensive rebounds a night, placing him 4th in the NBA since Dec. 9. At his size, there’s simply not a lot opposing teams can do when Duren is crashing the glass with intent.

He’s scored 94 points via put-backs (offensive rebounds). The third most in the league behind Jonas Valanciunas (102 points) and Nick Richards (116 points), per Synergy Sports.

Another scoring avenue for Duren has come as in the pick-and-roll, where the same physical characteristics that make him a great rebounder transfer to him being a weapon when rolling toward the basket. Duren has looked best when paired with Hayes in screen-and-roll actions. The combination of Hayes’ passing wizardry and Duren’s capacity to play above the rim make for a lethal duo:

In the above instance, Hayes delivers a perfectly weighted pass to Duren, narrowly avoiding the outstretch arms of Anthony Davis. The abnormally high catch radius Duren provides Hayes is what makes this play possible. If the pass were to be thrown any lower, Davis is almost certainly disrupting the play.

On the defensive end, if you just look at the raw numbers, Duren’s 0.7 blocks per game probably leave you feeling a tad underwhelmed. Especially because he averaged 2.1 denials as a freshman in college. But while there’s room for improvement, the Memphis product has provided the Pistons defense with solid rim protection.

Prior to Friday’s contest with the San Antonio Spurs, opponents were shooting -5.2% worse when guarded by Duren within 6-feet of the basket. For context, shot blocking savants; Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis, hold opponents to -5.4% and -5.8%, respectively.

Duren has also done an excellent job of maintaining verticality when contesting shots inside the painted area, rarely taking himself out of games due to foul trouble.

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The intrigue

The rim-rattling dunks and emphatic denials are what the 6-foot-10 center is known for, but theres plenty more to Jalen Duren’s game then first meets the eye. In an interview with the Ringers, Mirin Fader, during training camp, Pistons General Manager, Troy Weaver said;

“He has all the physical gifts,” Weaver says, “but he’s never gotten credit for how smart of a player he is.”

While many have focused on the idea of Duren with a sweet shooting stroke, perhaps the most enticing part of the 19 -ear-old’s potential is his passing ability. Duren is wise beyond his years as a passing big. He’s able to make the simple reads, while also dishing dimes amidst chaos:

There’s no playmaking statistic that will jump off the page when filtering through Duren’s numbers, but the eye-test shows he processes the game like a four-year pro.

He’s developed a synergy with veteran wing Bojan Bogdanovic, finding the Croatian sharpshooter with myriad passes in their brief time together.

In the below sequence, Bogdanovic recognizes Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, overplaying him for the pass, therefore cutting to the rim and receiving the perfectly timed bounce pass from Duren:

In the next clip, Duren fakes the hand-off for Bogdanovic and sets a sleek re-screen, freeing the 33 year-old marksman for the wide-open three:

When provided the opportunity, Duren has flashed potential as a decision maker in the short-roll.

Duren becoming a viable playmaking option as a short-roller provides the defense with further headaches. If the opposing defender in the corner sags to tag Duren on the roll, Duren will has ample opportunity to punish opponents with kick-out passes to corner shooters:

In the above play, the Kings trap Bogdanovic, forcing him to give the ball up to the rolling Duren who receives the pass at the free throw-line. Kings guard, Davion Mitchell scrambles to cut off Duren’s path to the basket, but Duren recognises the rotation and hits the open Killian Hayes in the corner.

At a glance, these passes may seem simple, but they provide insight into the mind of Detroit’s prized center. With opposing defenders looking to stifle him, Duren remains cool, calm and collected, making the right read more often than not.

While Duren’s play to date has exceeded many fans hopes for his rookie year, the towering rookie expects immediate success;

“This is nothing that surprised me. I always felt like I’m good and I can play on this level even at a young age. Where I’m at now doesn’t really surprise me. I just want to keep getting better.”

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