Beard: Duren, young core give Pistons outside shot of quickly improving

Detroit News

Las Vegas — Jalen Duren began his rookie debut at last year’s Summer League with a bang. He was on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass from Jaden Ivey, which ignited the expectations for what his rookie year could be.

Maybe not just his rookie year, but his career.

But it’s Summer League, so any observations need to be tamped down with a bit of perspective. It’s not the regular season, and it’s not anything that matters for anything, except for a Summer League title — and does anyone even remember who won Summer League last year?

In the Pistons’ Summer League opener on Saturday, Duren had another eye-opening first game, with 17 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. It wasn’t so much the numbers, but Duren passed the eye test of having made some additions to his game.

Among the eight field goals that Duren attempted were a couple of 3-pointers, one of which he made. That, in itself, isn’t big news, except when you consider that Duren didn’t make a 3-pointer at all last season, and only attempted two.

Only 5.6% of his shots last season were beyond 10 feet, so the fact that he made a 3-pointer and added a couple more long jumpers suggests that he’s unlocked other parts to his game that will help the Pistons next season.He even got to the free-throw line 10 times — making six — but he showed an aggressiveness around the rim on both ends of the court.

That internal improvement is what general manager Troy Weaver and new coach Monty Williams are counting on to elevate the Pistons from the NBA’s basement. It’ll be that type of jump from players like Duren, Cade Cunningham, Isaiah Stewart and Jaden Ivey that will be the big indicator of how well the Pistons do next season — and beyond.Alongside Duren, there was another big man, James Wiseman, who was making an impression, with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes.

The Pistons have been known as a guard-oriented team with Cunningham and Ivey as the centerpieces, but the Summer League version was dominated by the big men. With two other big men, Stewart and Marvin Bagley III, watching courtside, they provided a glimpse of what the other internal improvements could look like.

No quick conclusions

With the attention on the big men, rookies Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser flew under the radar. Thompson didn’t have a tremendous stat line — seven points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks — but he showed a calm that many rookies lack in their first NBA action.

He is known for his defensive acumen, and that showed through, but Thompson also showed that he can handle the ball and initiate the offense, though that was more the plan for Ivey, who had a subpar game, with six turnovers.

It’s just one game, and the Pistons have a rare Summer League back-to-back on Sunday against the Houston Rockets. There’s always some caution in trying to judge games in Las Vegas, because they aren’t full rosters, and they’re only young players, with scaled-back playbooks.

The best takeaways are generic and looking more at additions to a skill set, or reinforcing something that was already there. For the Pistons, those things were there in the Summer League opener, but they’ll need to be more plentiful throughout Summer League and well into training camp and the regular season.

It’s only Summer League.

But it’s a start.

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