Height - 6’11
Weight - 250 lbs
Wingspan - 7’5
Jalen Duren entered the season with high expectations. Duren had reclassified into the 2021 class and it was widely believed that he would dominate the collegiate game much like he had in high school.
Duren chose to play for Coach Penny Hardaway at Memphis alongside Emoni Bates, another highly touted high school star. It was not a decision that really benefitted Jalen. Duren has not yet developed the ability to create his own shot and therefore he relies on a playmaker to create looks for him.
Bates’ play at the point was unsteady and inconsistent which meant that we rarely saw the best out of Duren. With that being said, the film is very encouraging. It is already clear that Duren can easily slot into the low-usage, high-efficiency defensive anchor role that is desirable.
Duren is physically imposing and powerfully built but his agility is what stood out to me. Jalen is light on his feet and changes direction fluidly. He covers ground effortlessly and he has great stamina.
His speed is most notable in transition, Duren just seems to accelerate away from the opposing team and ends up with an easy look at the basket. His willingness to run and stretch the defense would be valuable for the Thunder. Opposing defenses will not be able to double Gilgeous-Alexander so aggressively if they are aware of Duren standing at their basket, waiting for a thunderous dunk.
Good floor spacing buys time for the ball-handler to assess the floor and make a reasoned judgement without being harried by the defense. The addition of Duren would go some way to addressing the heavy load placed on SGA’s shoulders.
Jalen Duren is also well-versed in the pick and roll. Duren plays with his head up and he is aware of the scoring threat that he presents around the rim. He is a legitimate lob threat and finishes above the rim comfortably. Duren often draws doubles on his rolls to the rim but he does not force shots against tight defense. He plays unselfishly and dishes the ball to the open man.
In an odd way, Duren’s play has confounded expectations. His game and stock has been publicised for the best part of three years. It is quite common for high school stars to buy their own hype and become single-minded on inflating their own production at the expense of their team.
Emoni Bates, Duren’s teammate at Memphis, fell into this category. Bates dominated high school basketball for two consecutive seasons and was firmly cemented as being one of the best players in his class. He then moved to consolidate his stock by playing college basketball at a programme designed around him.
There was none of that with Duren, he was an unselfish player who was willing to sacrifice his own production for the benefit of the team. This trait of Duren’s was most notable in the pick and roll.
Setting good screens is physically fatiguing for a big, it takes a lot of strength to take contact and remain completely rigid. Duren consistently set meaty picks and created so much space for the ball-handler to attack. The value of a screener who plays physically cannot be understated.
Steven Adams unlocked Russell Westbrook’s driving game to a level that we have not seen since. He has since done the same for Ja Morant in Memphis. Adams’ ability to wall off space allows the ball-handler to knife into the painted area unimpeded.
Duren’s game does have one glaring weakness. At the moment, Jalen Duren is a non-shooter and he only shot 62.5% on free throws last season. There is not much evidence to suggest that Duren can develop a workable jumper that can challenge the opposing defense. Duren did improve on mid-range jumpers as the season went but the sample size is quite small and may not be representative of what his future ability could be.
As players go, Jalen Duren is the best center in this Draft by far. His combination of size, athleticism and feel for the game means that he is an enticing prospect. Drafting Duren would provide the Thunder with badly needed vertical spacing and strong rim protection.