Pistons general manager Troy Weaver orchestrated one of the most productive NBA drafts in the team’s recent history last summer by adding lottery picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren to his young roster.
Both players were perhaps the most athletic players in a draft that included No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. and Bennedict Mathurin.
Nine months later, Ivey and Duren are on the cusp of completing their rookie seasons and they’ve shown flashes of their immense potential. They thrived as first-year starters before Duren suffered bilateral ankle injuries. They were named to the Rising Stars Challenge during last month’s NBA All-Star Weekend. They’ve each reached the 30-point mark in a game this season.
Most importantly, they’ve gained enough on-court experience that will make them valuable pieces when the Pistons have a full complement of players next season.
Awards season is rapidly approaching, and Pistons coach Dwane Casey was asked about the significance of his rookie duo earning All-Rookie team honors after Tuesday’s practice.
“It would be very important,” Casey said. “It’s not the end-all, cure-all, but it’s important to have them rewarded. I feel like they are two of the best rookies in the league. It’s not indicative of our record. I’m sure if the other rookies had as many minutes or were starting, their record would probably be similar. They have done enough to be two of the top rookies in our league.”
Ivey, who is shouldering the offensive load while Bojan Bogdanovic and Cade Cunningham are sidelined, is coming off one of his best games of the season, after totaling a career-high 32 points with eight rebounds and eight assists in Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 15.7 points, five assists and 3.9 rebounds through 67 games this season.
He recently became the fourth rookie in franchise history to compile 1,000 points, 300 assists and 250 rebounds, joining elite company in Dave Bing, Grant Hill and Cunningham. He is also closing in on a team record. Ivey needs to score at least 10 points on Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder to achieve the longest streak of double-digit scoring games by a rookie, which is held by Bing (32).
Duren, the youngest player in the NBA at 19 years old, has had a roller coaster of a season due to ankle injuries, but he’s a rebounding machine when he’s healthy and available.
Duren, who averages 8.9 points and 8.7 rebounds, is already making his imprint on the team’s history books. He has the most rebounds (522) and offensive rebounds (203) in franchise history through 60 games played. He has 16 double-doubles this season, which is the most for the Pistons and the second-most among rookies, behind Utah’s Walker Kessler (19).
The All-Rookie selections are divided into two five-man lineups, meaning only 10 players are eligible for the honor. Voting is conducted by the league’s head coaches, who are not allowed to vote for their own players. Cunningham, who was third in voting for last season’s Rookie of the Year award, was unanimously named to the All-Rookie first team last season. Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart and former Pistons forward Saddiq Bey received All-Rookie nods in 2020-21.
Casey said Ivey’s and Duren’s ability to grow through their mistakes have helped them navigate their first year in the league.
“They’ve had good days and bad days like we expect for all rookies to go through in an 82-game season in the NBA,” Casey said. “Experienced teams and experienced players are chomping at the bit to get to them each night. They’ve handled it well because they understand. They’re quick learners. They’re sponges. The next day they’re in here working and asking questions. That’s what you want to have with your young players.”