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2022 NBA Draft Analysis: Jalen Duren

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Memphis v Boise State Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

With the draft less than two weeks away, Mark and Caitlin are back with one last episode of Stock Up, Stock Down, in which they dare to turn their attention to the center position.

Breaking down a different prospect each week, the idea is for the hosts to watch a player, identifying reasons to be both bearish and bullish, with frame of reference from a few specific games as well as for the Pacers.

This week, Jalen Duren stars as the subject through the lens of Memphis’ games against Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Houston.

Stock Up

Caitlin’s pick(s) — short-roll passing, pick-and-roll stabs, and defensive rebounding

Even after trading Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers still have a logjam at the five position, with Myles Turner, Isaiah Jackson, and Goga Bitadze — all of whom were drafted by Indiana — already under contract for next season. As such, any discussion of selecting yet another big, let alone with the franchise’s first single-digit pick in over 30 years, needs to focus mainly on what unique factors that player projects to add over and above, or in complement to, the other existing options.

In that regard, as an explosive leaper and lob threat who can block shots in a variety of ways and survive under the right circumstances on switches while also occasionally operating as an effective release valve in the short-roll, Jalen Duren shares some attributes in rough sketch with each of Indiana’s five-men, with the hindmost trait perhaps being the most distinctive as well as critical to certain potential lineup combinations.

According to Synergy, Duren shot 8-of-22 on half-court jump-shots, which is actually **gulp** a hair better than what Isaiah Jackson managed to put down as a rookie (6-of-23). With both best optimized as vertical spacers, one of few ways to imagine them playing in tandem is with Duren tossing lobs to Jackson in the dunker’s spot.

Or, likewise, setting up Myles Turner in the corner — where the seven-year veteran has shot 33 percent for his career and already made clear he wants to do more.

From Duren’s perspective, both passes are an improvement in process from earlier in the season, when he would occasionally be delayed and miss windows entirely, but there should be some question as to whether he would be defended in the same manner at the next level and what happens if he isn’t. For example, will defenders actually help off from the ball-side corner, opening the shortest and easiest pass, even when the lowest defender from the two-side is waaaay early with the help?

Along those same lines, why help up on the catch, exposing the rim to cuts, instead of allowing the shot and keeping everything in front?

Just to put that into perspective, think back to Jim Boylen’s inflexible hedge scheme with Chicago and recall that when Myles Turner started at solo-five, as a 51-percent shooter in the non-restricted area of the paint, the Bulls still began that game prioritizing rim attacks before ultimately adjusting only after he demonstrated proof of product.

Plus, as has been seen in the Finals, there’s also the growing trend of big-to-big switching with screener’s man peeling, as Andrew Wiggins does, to takeaway the read spot.

Granted, not every blitz coverage will be the same as those two approaches and some opponents have since defended up on Goga Bitadze since the trade deadline, but this is also Duren’s shot-chart as the roll-man.

As generated by InStat

Against NBA-level strength and athleticism, there will be reason to test his softer side, forcing him to force defenders to commit, which means possessions like these, where he manages to find nylon with a floater or immediately attacks off the catch, could prove critical against opponents who scheme to neutralize scramble situations.

Like Goga, Duren leaves room for improvement with his screens, which can often function more like unintentional slips, but he already separates himself from Indiana’s two youngest fives with the way he stabs and/or pokes at ball-handlers in drop coverage to create indecision. Just look at the difference, here, between how he takes back space against the hostage dribble with his arm outstretched like a fencer to buy time for the on-ball defender to recover, whereas Jackson is typically more straight up and down.

Although not as flashy as the high-point on some of his most audacious rejections of floaters as a weak-side shot-blocker, Duren’s hand activity when defending within the action might actually be slightly ahead of his footwork, as he can be raw in his court navigation in switch situations, despite some of his more impressive possessions mirroring the ball.

That said, stops have to be finished with rebounds and what he does in terms of seeking contact and soaring high to snatch long rebounds with one hand, could be a potential long-term upgrade for a team that ranked 25th in the opponent offensive rebounding rate following the trade deadline. According to the NBA Shot-Charts formulation of DREB RAPM, Turner had a slightly positive mark in defensive rebounding impact (i.e. if he doesn’t grab the rebound, does somebody else on the team?) for only the second time in his career this season (0.3), when he placed ... 130th in the league, compared to 438th for Goga (-0.11) and 444th for Jackson (-0.27). By comparison, while admittedly playing in the American Conference, Duren was one of only three freshman in the country with a 20 DREB%, 10 AST%, and 9 BLK% — which wasn’t accomplished by Turner nor Jackson as first-years.

Still, they’re both known entities to varying degrees, with the former already being established as an elite NBA rim protector. As such, the case for Duren would more so be a case for whether a player of equal or better caliber at a different position of need could be had in-exchange for either of those two (particularly if the former doesn’t plan on signing an extension), while really buying in to his passing as a consistent swing skill to consider him nice enough on his own merits to make (audible sigh) playing double big viable, albeit with more potential defensive mobility to roam than in recent past seasons.

Mark’s pick — Ground Coverage, Passing Potential, Coverage Versatility

Jalen Duren is perhaps the player I find myself higher on than the majority of my contemporaries in scouting the 2022 NBA Draft. It’s important to note that there are a multitude of ways to look at, understand, and appreciate basketball. There’s not always a right answer. Disagreeing doesn’t mean either side is right or wrong.

Am I fence-sitting? Who is to say!

I really want to lay out why I’m higher on Duren as a prospect than the consensus thought seems to be. He’s generally seen as a lottery pick in all lenses, but I view him as deserving of that top five status that Ivey/Smith/Paolo/Chet domineer.

Again, part of my struggle with big boards is that the team context and environment are extremely determinant in placement for me. I view Paolo Banchero as my number one overall prospect, but if the Pelicans had received the top selection in the draft, I would’ve put Jaden Ivey at one in black paint, sealed it over, waterproofed it, and probably started to engrave the selection as well. Fit and “upside” fit hand in hand, as the ability to find playing time on a roster is essential to unlocking and building upon potential.

I’d start by saying immediately off of that: Jalen Duren to the Pacers makes a minimal amount of sense as the roster is currently set and even doing a half hour’s worth of napkin math and roster moves, it’s still uhhhh jarring. As Caitlin expertly dives into, there’s a great deal that needs to go on to make that pick make sense from an Indiana perspective. But, the point remains for me that I view Duren as someone entirely worthy of being discussed in the upper echelon.

Why?

I feel age can be too much of a crutch in either direction with the “he’s too old,” or “he’s only ____ think about what he’ll do at the same age as ____!”

If a player doesn’t consistently show the flashes at 19, it’s a bit much to assume it’s just going to happen for them in three years. For every player that experiences outlier growth, there are many who don’t. That’s part of what makes Duren so fascinating. The flashes (passing, processing) improved greatly throughout the course of the season and continues an upward trajectory from his senior season at Montverde Academy.

The first read gets tipped, that second is a thing of beauty.

The amount of talent in this IMG vs Montverde game was actually insane: Duren is headed to the league. Moussa Diabate and Caleb Houstan teamed up this past year at Michigan and are in the 2022 Draft, both likely picks around late first to early second round. Jarace Walker is someone we’ll be talking about next year, but heck I’ll talk about him right freakin now. Dariq Whitehead is a likely lottery pick in 2023. I have every iota of Jett Howard stock (Juwan’s son who will be a Freshman at U of M next season). Ryan Nembhard is a likely multi-year college player who was Big East freshman of the year at Creighton and is a real prospect. Jalen Hood-Schifino, Malik Reneau, Langston Love, Jaden Bradley, and Tamar Bates are all legitimate high level college players with the potential to make the pro jump. Again, insane talent.

The flashes became more than flashes at Memphis. The processing speed improved throughout the season, and there’s still room for improvement, which I’m more bullish on given how young he is. There’s a little bit more leeway for plasticity considering he still could’ve been playing at Montverde this past year.

I love this pass for a multitude of reasons. It showcases Jalen’s proficiency as a lob passer, which sounds odd to mention about a 5 considering how often 5’s are the typical lob threats, but that’s the beauty of the shift in basketball! Size and skill everywhere!

He sees DeAndre Williams rolling to the rim, and while Williams is open before Duren puts the ball on the deck, he opens the lob up entirely by taking one dribble in and forcing the defense to step up (more on stepping up late from Caitlin and I).

It’s subtle, but that’s just good stuff from Duren attacking space and taken advantage of what the defense gives to him.

He’s not just a screen and roll big that he can tend to get portrayed as. The passing isn’t just flashes, it is a very real and budding part of his game that Duren has set the scaffolding for for some time. The conference championship game against Houston was a quality showcase.

He shows real proficiency as a DHO operator and he actually possesses a good bit more handle and ball control than he typically gets mentioned as having. There are multiple bigs getting considered first round talents in this class that are not that comfortable setting up from the top of the key into an empty corner slot handoff. That’s not to drag other bigs, rather to sat “hey, this is noteworthy.”

This combo of vision and ball control is one of his highlights of the year.

Yet, he also has some downsides in his playmaking. In the post as Caitlin mentioned on pod, he can stare down his teammates.

Part of that is the lack of spacing in Memphis’ lineups and a lack of intuitive or even scripted cutting. But, there are certainly some things you want to see him rep out.

I think fit matters to me with Duren more than perhaps any other player in the lottery. A team really has to lean into his growing skill set to get the most out of it in my opinion. If he’s cast into a more supplementary role and not running offense through him consistently as a playmaking hub, then I question the upside a bit offensively.

The defense is what makes the offense worth parsing through and exploring.

When it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t bat an eye if Duren ends up the best defensive player out of the 2022 Draft Class.

He’s not a player solely operating as a drop big, and as Caitlin and I get into on pod, I’d actually argue he’s better defending in pick and roll right now than playing straight up as a deep drop primary rim protector.

Duren is another player in the same vein as Evan Mobley. Not the same player in the slightest, rather another big who fits the mold of ground coverage and coverage versatility. Both possess the ability to cover the rim and paint with the best of the best, but their mobility and recovery skills put them in that higher level of the atmosphere that separates 5’s in the NBA. These two are in that next wave of 5’s coming in who aren’t looking for a second coverage to survive, they’ve developed in a stage where spread pick and roll play has already proliferated heavily to youth basketball.

His stride length is pretty wild, covering from the arc to the restricted area in 4 steps.

He has a good deal of comfortability playing up to the level, although can be a bit aggressive on overplay his hand. But, he has that extra gear that allows him to simply blow the play up anyways. That’s while also noting that I think the footwork and overall technique has room for improvement. He has a lot of empty calories in how he moves prior to recovery in my opinion; not a bad thing! He’s 18 dude. Like that’s insane that he can do and see things on court the way he did playing against much older competition.

Memphis is playing Duren at the level? Throw a slip.

Again, this is not an every play thing, but it’s staggering how consistently Duren made plays like this covering swaths of ground.

He can close and recover with slides against like-sized players and wings.

There’s room for him to improve on handling interior screens as well, something Houston started to throw at him to open lanes to the rim.

I’m not there with “he can switch 1-5” but with his length, lateral quickness, and general mobility at his size, he can put together some impressive sequences guarding smalls on the perimeter.

Caitlin and I get into this much more in-depth on pod, but even without a “fully” switchable framework, there’s an absurd amount of defensive upside with Duren as well as a high floor. I’d comfortably say that he has the chance to be a DPOY candidate if things play out right. He teleports both vertically and covering ground to make plays at the rim.

Stock Down

Caitlin’s pick — post play

Sourcing more of Duren’s usage in the post (24%) than as the roll-man (10.8%) was a mismanagement of his skills at Memphis and likely wouldn’t continue in Rick Carlisle’s offense, especially in a more spacious environment with Tyrese Haliburton available to be the table-setter the Tigers were largely missing. Still, given some of Indiana’s already existent limitations in terms of being dictated to on the block, Duren doesn’t exactly have the edge for when opponents bottle up Haliburton with length.

After all, it wasn’t as if the Pacers never looked to attack the inside mismatch; some of those attempts just had a very loud tendency to turn into step-back twos or failures to establish advantage, whether with pound dribbles leading to nowhere or due to lack of early preparation.

Duren, by comparison, has decent footwork and is a ridiculous athlete, but goes out of his way to finish with his right and noticeably settles for rushed jumpers, rather than countering for the coverage, when he can’t back his man into a disadvantage.

Meanwhile, in the event he draws a double-team against a switch, he doesn’t seem as comfortable facilitating from the post as he does from the short-roll, as he tends to stare down his targets, making predetermined reads, without much manipulation or process — especially in the absence of cutting and off-ball movement.

As such, buying equity in him on offense beyond that of being a play-finisher might depend on whether he can grow to create out of fake hand-offs, backing down where he can get to his right hand without his handle being quite as confining.

But again, what are Myles and Isaiah doing in that scenario, aside from being weak-side screeners — maybe? Even if one of them is traded, the other is either going to be standing in the corner, once again struggling to find his own usage, or tethered to the dunker’s spot, effectively falling back into old (finally broken) patterns of cramped elbow room.

Mark’s pick — Intermediate Game & Margins Difficulty

The two biggest things we need to talk about here: Organizational buy-in and ability to bend the margins and attack pockets.

Caitlin did a tremendous job mentioning the importance of being all in on Duren, but I want to reiterate it. As I mentioned in the first section, drafting Jalen Duren to simply roll and cut without getting the most out of his potential as a playmaker would be a misuse of a draft pick and hindrance to Duren’s growth as a prospect. I just don’t think we’re actually going to see that from the Pacers even if the roster is flipped dramatically in a way that paves his role forward on a younger roster.

That leads to our second quandary: how does he take advantage of the space given to him?

That pass earlier, what if the defense doesn’t step up? Those rolls out of slips, what happens if the defense just stays right outside the restricted area? I have more confidence in where his handle is right now and where it could be in a few seasons than most, but I am much less certain of the touch.

His jumper cleaned up a little bit between Montverde and Memphis, removing some of the leg kick he had in high school. The shot is still not great. Especially playing the 5, it’s a shot that can be well contested given having a lower release point that a 7-footer can close to. Yet, the shot isn’t good enough right now to even warrant closeouts.

I do think if the shot gets to a low-40’s percentage from mid-range (35.9% on jumpers inside the arc at Memphis), he can draw some mental contests (shots that probably shouldn’t be contested, but hard to watch open shots go in in front of you). But, that’s without diving into the importance of volume and quickness. If it gets there and the handle tightens a little, we’re talking about a viable face-up game given how quickly he can cover ground with his strides and his physicality at the rim.

We are a ways away from that. There’s some framework, but again, what level can his touch improve to both on jumpers and floater area shots? There’s a lot of mental math at play.

I do think his touch on lobs, post-entry passes, and his playmaking in general leads me to believe there may be more there in a refined touch game, but there aren’t any other indicators (FT line, 3’s, etc.) that back that up.

This is where the age really factors in for me. I’m a firm believer that a jumper is amongst the most coachable things in prospects. No, a non-shooter in college is pretty darn unlikely to train his way to becoming Klay Thompson, but with the right tweaks and repetition, you can hit higher levels than your current indicators may deem possible.

Team intel matters a ton here for me. What kind of worker is Jalen Duren? How does he view himself? What does he think he needs to and or want to improve most on? What kind of work does he put in to improve it?

There’s a million questions I’d have that I don’t have the answers to.

I don’t care that he can’t shoot threes, but if he’s going to hit his higher outcomes, then the ability to exploit the gaps (as well as some post play as Caitlin mentioned) really needs to improve.

One of the things I wonder about most is quickness. Establishing himself more as a screener to really create separation for his teammate, but also himself on the roll is something I’d love to see. He sets some good screens, but is infrequent with contact. Again, I find that to be a workable thing, but the best screeners in the NBA (Bam Adebayo, Domas Sabonis) repped it like crazy. You get an extra oomph from a great screen that you don’t get from a fine screen, and Duren needs that to become the best version of himself in my opinion. He has the fluidity in his hips and the strong base to do it, I just think it’ll take a great deal of time and focused effort to improve it and become more consistent.

Can he get into jumpers quicker or attack quicker in general? I don’t think he’s slow, but I rather mean can he cut a half-second off of his moves and get into them more swiftly? Especially at his size, a great way to draw fouls or to take away the opposition’s ability to get set is with being first and being big. Jalen has one of those down!

But back to the floater and touch game in general. What level does that NEED to get to is something I ponder a lot. I don’t love the Bam/Duren comps for a myriad of reasons, but I do think you can draw some similarities. What happens for both when left with pockets of space? Bam has shot 46 and 45 percent from short mid range in 2021 and 2022 respectively per Cleaning the Glass. Even shooting that well, Bam can be a welcome pressure point for opposition.

They’re comfortable letting him take a pretty good, but ultimately not that impactful jumper in the grand scheme of defense. Aggression and constant force is so key (again, as we’ve seen with Bam) to impacting the defense and attacking space. Duren is a better lob threat given catch radius and Bam is of course the better ball-handler and scorer. It’s not a comp, but it’s an important inflection point. Team context for the Heat is important as well as this being something that will ultimately matter more in the playoffs, but that timing is part of the equation.

At the expense of sounding reductive, I see it with Jalen Duren. I believe in his potential and how he fits the modern NBA even without jumper. But, he needs time and commitment and I don’t have an ounce of belief that the Pacers are the team to provide both of those things. That’s not a knock on them, rather it’s their prerogative. I believe Duren ends up one of the best players in the class, but I sincerely doubt it happens in Indianapolis.

Other topics:

  • Switching as more than just staying between the ball and the basket
  • Buying in on who Duren is a player — not finding a cheaper alternative
  • Pacers’ Direction in entirety

With this being the final episode, thanks to everyone who followed along and engaged with this series. As always, if you haven’t already, please be sure to Rate and Review the Indy Cornrows Podcast on Apple Podcasts and subscribe anywhere else you can listen

Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/stock-up-stock-down-jalen-duren/id1476566116?i=1000566236655

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/600vxEirLFMQRMymhbmmJL?si=J5hasmuCTZygvGjL1i4DEA