Oh how quickly Jerami Grant’s trade narrative has changed. When it was revealed Wednesday night that Grant had been traded to the Blazers for a 1st place in 2025, a 2nd round promotion and a couple of future 2nds, I think the whole fanbase was hoping that there was one there would be a subsequent change and the circle was closed. Fast forward 24 hours to the end of Thursday night’s NBA Draft Lottery and it all made sense as Troy Weaver worked his magic and turned the 1st round of 2025 over to win 18-year-old big man Jalen Duren!
If adding Jaden Ivey with the No. 5 pick didn’t bring enough athleticism to that roster, Troy Weaver made sure it wouldn’t after returning to the lottery and selecting Duren. I can’t help but wonder if looking at what the acquisition of Marvin Bagley III has unlocked for offense, specifically Cade and Killian, has made the big man that much more enticing to Weaver.
Being a pick-and-roll lob threat to these young guards is something Duren will add to the list immediately. While I may have some questions about Duren’s more nuanced abilities in PnR, you must be pleased with the 1.52 PPP (Points Per Possession) he achieved as a role-man. The sheer gravity he will have in these situations due to his ability to catch and finish lobs on the edge will greatly benefit both Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.
This gravity will put a lot of pressure on the defense to either mark him as the roll type and thus leave a weak sideguard open, to stay home as a defender of the ball protection post and thus give the ball handler an advantage, or to abandon the above praise the edge. It’s also important to note that last season we may not have seen the full effect Duren could have in these situations, as Memphis worked without a true point guard to sometimes operate in ball sevens and questionable distances.
Before we talk about the other types of games that feature this vertical pop for majors, let’s talk about the short roll game. In terms of his ability to score in those situations, I think the jury is still out. As I mentioned, he wasn’t always in the best position to succeed AND he didn’t always put himself in the best position to get the pass and the score. When he was in a good position, he wasn’t very efficient either. This is definitely an aspect of his offensive play that needs to show and would be huge for his overall offensive impact.
On the other hand, we’ve seen enough short roll passing to get a bit more feel for it. While Duren can sometimes go for the “home run” pass or struggle with accuracy, he showed an ability to see the reading that needed to be made and if you watched the game against Houston you would run away that the short- Roll pass was sold game is very real.
Coming back to its ability as a lob threat, this also showed up in the dunker spot and transition. I don’t want to “put down” Isaiah Stewart, but think of the slew of dump-off passes from Killian Hayes or Cade that looked like sure two points that didn’t end that way. Such situations are sure to end in an alley-oop or 1-step dunk for Jalen Duren. Ditto in Transition where his body control and Lob finishing really shine. These two things combined with his offensive rebound and the aforementioned PnR roller show the variety of ways Duren can be used as a play finisher.
Nevertheless, Duren comes along as an unfinished product in some areas. I’ve raved about his dunks and alley-oop finishings in this article, BUT when those aren’t available, he’s had trouble getting around the edge with layups over the past year. He’ll definitely need to find a little finesse to improve his game when dipping the ball just isn’t an option.
I mentioned that he’s a good play finisher, but there was definitely nothing in his game that made you think about being a play creator, even in post-up situations. He was very inefficient and really seemed to have only one drop step reverse move in his “bag”. I will emphasize once again that he is only 18 years old and will not turn 19 until November. That leaves plenty of time to grow in those areas, as does his filming, which I think will be a multi-year process.
I don’t want this article to pit MBIII against Jalen Duren, but if I had to pinpoint the biggest difference it would be at the defensive end of the floor. I actually believe that with a few different covers, Duren can provide a quality ball screen defense. I think he’ll be a good “drop coverage” defender with his length and vertical pop along with his ability to stop his swing and throw in jump shots when needed. I also think there really are some benefits to playing switch coverage, the Pistons defense of choice for most of last season, especially as he progresses in his career. There were just enough possessions that I saw in the film where I think he can again stop his momentum and change direction to stay ahead and at least deny shots.
I was also very intrigued by its overall rim protection, not just the shot blocking which was obviously impressive. He was already showing an ability to play with “verticality,” something every great must learn to stay out of bad trouble, admittedly something Duren struggled with at times, but mostly stemmed from unnecessary and “silly” fouls. The other aspect that really struck me was that I didn’t feel like he was chasing blocks and he did a really good job of not overdoing himself as a helping defender. I think sometimes shot blockers can get a little happy with the block and start locking onto the block when it’s not necessary, which can result in unnecessary offensive rebounds on the weak side. Duren didn’t do that very often, which I really enjoyed seeing.
If I had to single out just a few areas for improvement on the defensive end, they would be a bit more of a constant “motor” and he would have to thrive. I know “motor” is one of those buzzwords when doing NBA draft scouting, but I think at times he grounded some plays on offense and defense. Again, maybe it was just a young player still in control of the game, maybe he didn’t fully understand the conditioning that was required to play at the required level, but it was something I noticed and just something , which I should keep an eye on . And I know boxing sounds like a middle school thing, but he won’t be able to rely solely on his physical tools to pick up rebounds in the league. There have been games where his lack of detail in defensive boxing has cost his team some possessions and it’s a ‘small’ thing that I’ll be watching him even as early as the summer league in early July.
I actually think Jalen Duren has a very high ground because he defends at least at a good level and offers gravity on the edge as a praise threat in a variety of situations. If he gets more than that, it really comes down to development in the short role, some finesse on finishing, shooting and fine-tuning on the defensive end to see what the absolute ceiling can be. I honestly have no idea if this changes the offseason plans for Marvin Bagley III or the DeAndre Ayton pursuit, but I feel comfortable to say that Troy Weaver already adds a very exciting young player to the big man mix has and I can’t wait to see how it’s used.