The final minutes of Friday’s Detroit Pistons game became the Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren show.
With just over five minutes remaining, Ivey drew his first shooting foul of the night. By that point, he already had 20 points on 10 attempts and had made all four of his 3-point tries. The rookie guard knocked down both free throws, then had a role in his team’s next 11 points, helping the Pistons defeat the Charlotte Hornets, 118-112.
With four minutes to play, he finished a tough layup. A minute later, he made two great reads on one possession —first finding Saddiq Bey with a skip pass to the corner, then, after a rebound of the missed 3-pointer, he drove and dumped the ball off to Duren, who drew a foul and split his trip to the line — to help Detroit cut its deficit to one.
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A pair of Ivey free throws at the two-minute mark broke a tie at 108-all; he then drove and created a lane for Duren for an easy paint bucket. When Bey hit the go-ahead 3 with 32 seconds left, both Ivey and Duren helped set the shot up. Ivey drove and dumped the ball off to Duren once again, and the rookie big made the extra pass to Bey in the corner.
Those final sequences, which saw the Pistons overcome 23 turnovers, highlight why the pair was selected to the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars game, set for Feb. 17 in Salt Lake City. They’re the first rookie duo in franchise history to make the game, and it comes at a time where they’re playing their best basketball of their young careers.
“It’s a huge honor, honestly,” Duren said during shootaround Friday morning. “Another goal accomplished. I came in wanting to show everybody what I was capable of. It’s just showing how much growth that I had for the season. It’s a huge honor to be able to make the game and to be part of such an event such as All Star weekend.”
Ivey, who led the Pistons with 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting Friday, expressed similar sentiments after the game.
“Just from where I come from, and just the dreams that I had as a kid, wanting to be in All-Star weekend and be in that atmosphere, it’s a dream come true and a blessing,” Ivey added. “I get to represent Detroit in a great way, and not only me but Jalen Duren, we get to go out there and compete and represent the Detroit Pistons and the city of Detroit.”
In his previous 11 games entering Friday, Ivey averaged 15.6 points, six assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 44.4% overall and 33.3% from 3. It has been an up-and-down season, and Ivey has had far more responsibility than most would have predicted entering this season. Cade Cunningham’s injury has forced the Pistons to lean on Ivey as a playmaker, even though he was more comfortable at the two in college.
But Ivey has responded with patient, smart basketball. The Pistons’ 23 turnovers were a season high, but Ivey was only responsible for one. He made smart reads, allowed plays to develop and continued showcasing strong chemistry with Duren, who has been at the receiving end of a significant amount of his assists this season.
Ivey’s speed is a big reason why he was considered a steal at No. 5 in June’s draft, but Friday stood out because of his reluctance to rely on it. Instead, he used his speed only when necessary. He gave LaMelo Ball fits on defense.
“That’s what he has to do, have another gear to go to,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “If you’re playing at 100 miles an hour every play, then the defense can gauge your speed. But if you’re changing speeds, especially the gift that he has with his speed, he can be a hard weapon to guard, and he’s learning that. I can just see him slowing down in certain situations, reading the defense, because if you’re going 100 miles an hour you can’t read the defense. Everything’s a blur. And he’s doing a much better job of really having another gear to go to, slowing down a half a step and then using that burst of speed to his advantage.”
Ivey understands that his teammates can make life easier for him, but Friday was one of his most unselfish performances despite his scoring. He kept his head up, found open shooters and fed Duren when the big man had a lane to the basket. He had good touch with the ball in his hands. He looked comfortable.
“The biggest thing is just continuing to play my game, knowing what’s there and what’s not there offensively for me,” he said. “I love getting my teammates involved and running plays for other people. I feel like I’ve always had that unselfishness about me. Now it’s learning how to play smart in the game and put my teammates in positions before myself. That’s the biggest thing, I’m just continuing to learn day-by-day.”
Duren is also thriving, turning in a 13-point, 13-rebound performance on 6-for-8 shooting Friday. In his previous seven games, he averaged 14 points, nine rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 81.6% overall and 81.8% at the free-throw line.
The youngest player in the NBA is making his job look easy. Duren is already one of the NBA’s most gifted centers athletically, and Detroit’s guards have gotten better at getting him the ball as the season has progressed. Duren has also done a good job at attacking space and making himself open.
“The league has a lot more spacing (compared to college),” Duren said. “Nobody that can just sit in the paint and clog up the paint. Elite level guards. Just being on this level, having elite level guards and elite level talent that can help make spaces for me, honestly I can’t really take all the credit for it. I feel like it’s a team effort.”
Friday was Duren’s 19th start in 20 games. He’s ahead of schedule, but he hopes the Rising Stars game marks a new standard for himself as the Pistons play their final games this season.
“For the first half of the season, I feel like I’ve done good,” Duren said. “I don’t want to end the season right here. If I end the season right here, I didn’t get to where I needed to be. I feel like I also need to grow in the second half of the season. Coming in, I feel like I’ve gotten better up until this point now. From All-Star until the end of the season I feel like I need to take another jump.”