Casey pleased with Duren’s growth, but emphasizes Pistons’ rim-protecting

Detroit News

Detroit — Pistons rookie Jalen Duren is coming off his 10th double-double of the season and a career-high 23 points and 15 rebounds in Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

He’s the youngest player with a 20-point, 10-rebound game in franchise history and the youngest player in NBA history with at least 23 points, 15 boards and two blocks.

Duren shouldered the load in the frontcourt in the absence of Isaiah Stewart, who is dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.

The 19-year-old rookie is averaging 8.1 points and 8.8 rebounds on 64% shooting from the field and 60% from the free-throw line. It’s impressive for Duren to immediately come in as a rookie and provide that type of impact on the boards, but there’s another area of his game that needs to improve in order for him to take the next step as a player, according to his coach.

“There’s other things he can do better. He can protect the rim better, be there a little more,” Dwane Casey said. “He had a good night after being off for so long. Really happy with his offensive production.”

Duren averages just 0.8 blocks, and that number could increase once he learns to anticipate when and where opposing players will look to attack the basket.

“One thing he’s doing is picking up the ball late in transition and the game is fast from college to here,” Casey said. “That’s his next stride. You look at some of the bigs in our league, they see the ball and anticipate it as the play is coming down the floor. They know they have a feel for where the play is going. Once he gets that, that’s where his shot-blocking and natural instincts will be able to take over.”

In 16 games as a starter, Duren is averaging 10.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and his free-throw numbers increase to 74%. He’s shown that he can be a force down low on both ends of the floor, especially with his rebounding and explosive dunks. In order to take that next step, Duren will need to assert his will on the defensive side of the ball to become a rim-protector.

During his five-game absence due to a foot injury, Duren said he observed Pistons backup center Nerlens Noel and his ability to anchor the team’s defense with four blocks and three steals in their last win, against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Jan. 11.

“Just his instincts,” Duren said after Sunday’s practice. “I feel like (Noel) has very good defensive instincts, tracking shots, playing on the outside. I feel like that’s somewhere I can continue to grow.”

Casey says it’s natural for a rookie to overthink on the defensive end, but it limits their athleticism.

“Right now, he’s kind of processing things and throughout that process, he’s taking away some of his athleticism where he’s thinking instead of just playing. That’s no knock on him; that’s true with any young player in this league. Fifty games in, he’s made steps, but there’s another level to go.”

Injury updates

Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart and guard Killian Hayes have been day-to-day with shoulder injuries since the team returned from Paris last week.

Both players missed Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but participated in some form of practice on Wednesday, according to Casey.

“Isaiah (Stewart) did some earlier, not a full practice, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Casey said. “Killian was a full-go.”

Hayes was not listed on the Pistons’ injury report, so he should be available for Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets. However, Stewart is listed as questionable, along with Isaiah Livers, who suffered a right ankle sprain against the Bucks.

Stewart initially hurt his left shoulder on Jan. 8 against the Philadelphia 76ers, which caused him to miss three games. He returned on Jan. 15 against the New York Knicks and also played against the Chicago Bulls in Paris. Despite his availability, he struggled to shoot the ball. He hasn’t made a 3-pointer in his last three games.

Casey is not under the belief that the injury will be a long-term problem and wants Stewart as close to full strength as possible before he sees the court again.

“I don’t think it’s going to be long-term,” Casey said. “It’s much better. I think they’re going to make sure we’re cautious. Whether he came back too soon from the last (shoulder) injury, that’s when he re-injured it. We want to make sure he has an ample amount of time to get it back close to 100%. Like I say, there’s nobody in the league right now 100%. Everybody has something. Soreness is one thing. Isaiah is injured. It’s legit.”

Pistons at Nets

Tipoff: 7:30 Thursday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: The Pistons are looking to snap a four-game losing streak against the Kevin Durant-less Nets. Brooklyn (29-17) has won its last two games — the first victories since Durant suffered a sprained MCL — and will play the Philadelphia 76ers in the first of a back-to-back on Wednesday. Detroit suffered a 124-121 loss to the Nets at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 18.

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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