• Sudeep Tumma

Scouting Report: Jalen Duren Is an Old-School Big Who Fits Today's Game

The first three prospects catch your eyes, this guy will catch your heart.

There’s one word that comes to mind when I think of Jalen Duren: unique.

The 6-11, 250-pound Memphis center already has a chiseled NBA-ready body. It’s 250 pounds of pure muscle.

Duren boasts top-tier physical traits with excellent athleticism for a big man. Along with his physicality, he’s mobile, has noteworthy straight-line speed and explosive leaping ability.

He’s got a bit of a throwback, back to the basket game, but there’s more to his profile.

The projected lottery pick has drawn comparisons to guys like DeAndre Ayton and Bam Adebayo. And for good measure. Duren is a raw, unfinished prospect, but he’s got some polished qualities.

It starts with his playmaking.

Duren possesses guard-esque passing vision, and Memphis does a great job utilizing it. From the post, on the perimeter, in the Hi-Lo game, even on touch passes, he displays a deft ability to find his teammates. He does a great job manipulating defenders with not only his eyes but also his body.

With his raw strength, he throws passes with genuine velocity, but still hits teammates on time and on target.

The Tigers employ Duren in the pick-and-roll game, not just as a roller to the basket but also on short rolls. Which is such an advantage.

In modern-day NBA offenses, switching and help defense is so critical. It’s a guard-driven league. So in pick-and-roll situations, defenses often blitz the ball-handler and force him to pass to the big on short rolls or continue dribbling out of the trap and letting the defense reset, which neutralizes the pick-and-roll set.

The issue arises if/when the guard sends a pass to the big man at the 3-point line/free-throw area, but the big man is stuck because he can’t handle/pass/shoot.

Duren excels in those situations.

When he gets the ball, he makes sound decisions. Whether he corrals the pass and stops to make a decision or is on the move, he locates open teammates with ease on those four-on-three situations. This may sound easy, but that’s not always the case for a big man. It takes savvy passing ability, which Duren has.

If there are no passing lanes and the defense backs off and sags onto the other three Tigers, Duren will stop in the elbow/free-throw line area and utilize his reliable mid-range jumper.

Which is another refined aspect of his game. Duren has a smooth jumper from 16-18 feet, he can strike you from the baseline, in the high post, etc. — it’s a bona fide asset. He typically works off catch-and-shoot looks, but he can hit tough contested looks.

Outside of the passing/mid-range, Duren’s offensive game is raw. He doesn’t have a semblance of a 3-point stroke. But the bigger concern is his unrefined low post game.

His game mainly revolves around pick-and-rolls, dump-offs, lobs and putbacks, which is why he’s shooting a blistering 63.6% from the field. He loves to thunderously dunk everything around the rim.

It’s a bit elementary at this point, but that’s a common occurrence with upside prospects. Still, there are flashes that provide a reason for optimism.

Duren doesn’t get too many post-up opportunities, but he uses his size to carve out space on the low block for entry passes. When he gets the ball in those spots, he generally plays “bully ball” and just bangs bodies to get closer to the rim.

His low post game is unpolished. He doesn’t have many moves and isn’t much of a threat down there.

However, he has flashed drop-steps and step-throughs along with terrific body control, tremendous footwork, strong hands and an A1 touch around the rim. Those traits provide a strong backbone for the future, but he will need to develop a left hand, as he exclusively goes right.

Duren also needs to improve his post control. He isn’t much of a ball-handler right now, but far too often, when help defense comes and the ball is exposed, defenders will knock the ball out and force turnovers.

Along with that, his 58.5% clip at the free-throw line won’t inspire confidence in anyone. That’ll need to rise at the next level.

As I said, there is room for development, but he does plenty of things effectively.

For one, his straight-line speed and mobility traits allow him to thrive in transition. He won’t be the one starting the break off a rebound — those point forward skills don’t exist yet — but he’ll run the break and score in transition.

Duren is averaging 11.4 points in 25.9 minutes. His production is about where you expect with his physical traits meshing with a raw offensive game.

With that, he’s averaging 7.7 rebounds, which I think can be much better.

As it stands, with his vertical/length/motor, he crashes in there and gobbles boards solely based on the physicality. But he’s inconsistent with boxing his man out. When he’s down near the rim, he’ll stick a body on his man, but he’s often just gliding in from other parts of the court.

Now, that shouldn’t knock his effort. He’s almost always crashing in from the perimeter, even on the offensive glass, where he averaged 2.6 rebounds, but the production could be even higher.

We mentioned Ayton earlier, and the comparison is apt, but Ayton was a more gifted scorer at Arizona while Duren is the superior defender.

The physical traits are similar, but Duren has really locked in a shot blocker. With his 42-inch vertical, 7-5 wingspan and timing, he swats away shots at a solid clip, 2.2 per game. Duren also has the foot speed to slide over as a weakside help defender and protect the rim. He stays vertical without fouling, and the shots he doesn’t reject, he’ll alter.

But in today’s NBA, it’s not just about having a big who can block shots, defensive versatility has taken priority for most teams.

In Memphis’ scheme, Duren exudes those qualities. The Tigers trap pick-and-rolls and/or switch matchups often, which forces Duren to cover guards. He doesn’t have elite lateral quickness per se, but he’s got enough in that department, and his length aids him. Which helps him be a fruitful pick-and-roll defender.

He’s got legitimate appeal as an anchor of NBA defense, but I would love to see him play with better defensive intensity. He isn’t locked in every possession.

Overall, Duren’s profile provides much reason for excitement. He’s obviously got aspects he’ll need to improve, but there’s loads of upside.

This is a draft class full of adroit big men. Add Duren to the list.

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