Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren becoming productive rookie tandem Detroit Pistons hoped for

Detroit Free Press

At the end of his most dominant quarter of the night, Jaden Ivey created a pair of highlight plays with one of his favorite running mates.

With less than three minutes to play in the third period, Jalen Duren set a screen for Ivey at the top of the 3-point line and rolled downhill. Ivey also attacked, and found Duren for an alley-oop dunk after drawing Brook Lopez out of the paint.

Duren closed the quarter with another dunk — Ivey beat Grayson Allen one-on-one and forced Lopez to turn his back to Duren once again, and he dumped the ball off to him to cut the deficit to four, 94-90.

Ivey had a career night on Monday, during the Detroit Pistons’ 126-117 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The rookie guard scored 14 of his career-best 32 points in the third quarter while dishing eight assists and grabbing eight rebounds. He, Cade Cunningham and Grant Hill are the only three rookies in franchise history to reach those benchmarks in a game, according to the Pistons. And Duren helped Ivey accomplish the milestone, by doing what he’s done all season.

The rookie duo has developed strong chemistry. Duren was the recipient of four of Ivey’s eight assists on Monday, and he also had a strong night with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Entering the game, Duren was Ivey’s second most-assisted teammate with 46 on the season. Only Bojan Bogdanovic has received more assists, with 58.

Since Duren’s first career start on Dec. 9, Ivey’s dished 38 assists to him — the highest total on the team. Bogdanovic is second with 35 in that span, even though he and Ivey have played more minutes together than Ivey and Duren. After his career performance, Ivey acknowledged that he and Duren have meshed well together.

ALL-ROOKIE:Jaden Ivey already taking the NBA step critics questioned

“It’s been big,” Ivey said. “Just the biggest thing is repetition in practice. I feel like with my speed, I’m able to create opportunities for other people, my teammates. I feed off of them and see what I can get. If I can get to the bucket, obviously I want to take that. But putting in those guys in better position so we as a team can get better.”

It’s expected that most point guards will synergize with athletic big men. For example, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young’s favorite targets are his two bigs — Clint Capela, who he’s dished a team-high 139 assists to this season, and John Collins, who is second with 120.

But it speaks to the strides Ivey has made as an initiator. He was seen as a combo guard coming out of Purdue, due to the fact that he was turnover and tunnel-vision prone. That’s also been true for him, at times, with the Pistons. But he’s also proven that he can consistently make point guard reads. His speed allows him to consistently draw multiple defenders when driving to the rim. Duren, who is 10th in the NBA with 127 dunks this season, is an ideal outlet for Ivey’s drives.

It also highlights how quickly Duren has figured out his role on offense, despite being the league’s youngest player. He’s embracing his calling as a strong roller and lob threat. He and Ivey are two of Detroit’s best three athletes, and he matches Ivey’s tendency to beat defenders horizontally with his ability to out-jump most opposing big men.

There’s a nuance to knowing when and how to screen, and the correct timing on rolls and cuts to the basket. Duren has a knack for positioning himself exactly where Ivey needs him to be.

“I love playing with JI,” Duren said last Sunday. “He’s one of the better guys I’ve ever played with in terms of him reading the game, his IQ, his ability to get past his first defender. He’s one of the guys that’s easiest to play with. I feel like he’s gotten better as I’ve gotten better. We’ve both grown together and he’s locked in. Every time I’m in here, I’ve seen him in here. I just love that I was able to come in with such a great player like him.”

Dwane Casey said Ivey has grown as far as navigating pick-and-rolls and finding his bigs when the opposing center commits to him. Since Feb. 25, Ivey is averaging 6.9 assists per game. March has been his best month as a passer. Duren has done his part by making himself an easy target.

“He’s doing a good job of finding (Duren) for the dump-off or for the lob, and the lob may not always be there,” Casey said on Monday. “So now if you see another body, that’s where the kickouts come. I thought in Toronto (on Friday) he did a good job of kicking it out, we just didn’t make shots. He’s doing a good job of making sure he makes the right decisions. He had nine turnovers the other night, but that was an aberration. Tonight he did a much better job making the safe play, the simple play with the basketball. It’s growth.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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