Pistons center Jalen Duren on rookie season progress: ‘I feel like I’ve grown’

Detroit News

Detroit — Jalen Duren caught the ball about 12 feet from the basket and comfortably turned around before nailing a fadeaway jumper.

It was a shot that Duren might not have taken earlier in the season, but the Pistons’ rookie center is showing more versatility in his offensive game as he gains more comfort in the NBA.

The league’s youngest player returned from a five-game absence in Thursday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls in Paris.

The Pistons used their first practice since returning to the States on Sunday as an opportunity to nail down the fundamentals of the game, on offense and defense.

As Duren begins the back-half of his rookie season, he’s pleased with his performance through the Pistons’ first 48 games of the season.

“Just happy I was able to come in and show my talent,” Duren said. “I feel like I got a lot better from the first game until now. Honestly, my biggest thing is growth. I feel like I’m going to continue to grow and develop throughout the rest of the season, too.”

Duren is averaging 7.8 points and 8.6 rebounds on 64% shooting from the field this season. He’s made his impact on the boards, especially on the offensive end. Those extra possessions usually result in a dunk for the explosive Duren.

Duren began the year as a reserve, but played his way into the starting lineup in December after Pistons coach Dwane Casey desired to play with a bigger lineup. He started 15 consecutive games until he was sidelined for five straight games due to lingering left ankle soreness, which Duren called “frustrating.”

“Any injury is frustrating,” Duren said, “especially when we were down men and I couldn’t really help as much as I wanted to. I’m just happy now to be feeling better and to be able to get back out.”

While Duren was hurt, Pistons center Nerlens Noel received an opportunity to play significant minutes after starting in three games. He had four blocks and three steals to help lead the Pistons to a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 11.

Duren watched and took notes on Noel’s ability to impact the game after playing sparingly for the majority of the season.

“Just the simple fact of always being ready to go,” Duren said. “Nerlens has been a great veteran presence for us as bigs. Just him going out there when his name was called and being able to produce is just huge.”

Duren received just 18 minutes off the bench on Thursday, but made a profound impact with 11 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Casey was happy with Duren’ performance in his return, but said his rookie center has to regain his conditioning to sustain that effectiveness.

“In the short minutes he had, I thought he played efficient,” Casey said. “He’s got to get his conditioning, get his rust off as far as his timing — catching the ball, holding the ball, grabbing rebounds.”

Stewart out against Bucks; Hayes listed as questionable

Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart will not be available for Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks due to shoulder soreness, according to a team spokesperson.

Stewart missed three games earlier this month due to the same injury. Over his last three games, Stewart has struggled with his perimeter shooting with zero 3-point makes in his last 10 attempts. He scored seven points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Pistons’ 126-108 loss to the Chicago Bulls in Paris on Thursday.

With Stewart’s unavailable, rookie center Jalen Duren is likely to reprise his position in the starting lineup after returning from a left ankle injury.

Killian Hayes is listed as questionable against the Bucks due to a left shoulder contusion. The France native struggled in his homecoming game against the Bulls in Paris, finishing with just four points on 2-of-13 from the field.

Bucks stars Giannis Antetokounmpo (left knee soreness) and Khris Middleton (right knee soreness) are listed as probable to play against the Pistons on Monday. Antetokounmpo has missed the last five games since he led the Bucks to a 114-105 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 11. Middleton hasn’t played since Dec. 15.

Bucks at Pistons

Tipoff: 7 Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons (12-36) look to snap a three-game losing streak against the Bucks (29-17) on Monday. The Bucks defeated the Pistons in back-to-back games in Milwaukee on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with a combined 63 points in those two matchups.


Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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