DETROIT, MI - APRIL 4: Jalen Duren #0 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates during the game against the Miami Heat on April 4, 2023 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)

Season Rewind: Duren cements status as vital piece of Pistons future

The historical comparisons most come to when imagining what Jalen Duren can become reach to a pair of the most explosive power forwards the game had ever seen at the time.

Dwane Casey brought up Shawn Kemp, a player he recruited out of Elkhart, Ind., as a young assistant coach under Eddie Sutton at Kentucky and later coached as a member of George Karl’s NBA staff in Seattle. Others pointed to Chris Webber, who starred at Detroit Country Day and for two years at Michigan as the centerpiece of the Fab Five and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2021.

The Pistons asked Duren to do very little of the things that made Kemp and Webber All-NBA players during their heyday. He spent all of the 2022-23 season as the NBA’s youngest player and was tasked with a narrow set of responsibilities that included rebounding, screen setting and protecting the rim.

A new coach and staff will be charged with taking it from there for Duren, a strong candidate for the NBA All-Rookie team after forcing his way into a significantly larger role than anticipated when the Pistons made him the 13th pick in the June 2022 NBA draft.

Here's a look Duren’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-10 center, 19 years old, 1 NBA season

2022-23 STATS: 9.1 rebounds, 8.9 points, 0.9 blocked shots in 25 minutes a game while shooting 64.8 percent

STATUS: Duren just completed the first year of his rookie contract after being picked 13th in the 2022 NBA draft after the Pistons, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets executed a three-team trade to net the Pistons an extra lottery pick.

DID YOU KNOW?: Duren was considered the No. 1 consensus recruit in the high school class of 2022, but in August 2021 he abruptly announced that he was reclassifying to the high school class of 2021 and committing to play his freshman season at the University of Memphis over options that included the G League Ignite and playing in the Australian professional league.

A LOOK BACK: Duren was earmarked for stardom before he enrolled in high school, standing 6-foot-8 as an eighth-grade star of the AAU circuit from his home base near Philadelphia. Duren played at Philadelphia Roman Catholic before transferring to Florida prep powerhouse Montverde Academy – where Cade Cunningham played his final two years of high school – for his junior year. That was the COVID-19 2020-21 season. Duren averaged 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots in conference play against other national prep programs, furthering his case as an elite recruit. By June of that year, there were murmurings that Duren was considering bypassing his senior year and exploring best options to make himself a viable lottery prospect for the 2022 NBA draft. Duren decided to attend Memphis over non-college options and found his footing after an uneven start as a 17-year-old. Duren wound up averaging 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds in 25 minutes a game while shooting 59.7 percent. As expected, Duren declared for the NBA draft at the conclusion of his freshman season.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: At the time of the NBA draft, the Pistons had Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart and Marvin Bagley III on their roster and soon after would add Nerlens Noel from the Knicks via a trade that featured Alec Burks coming to Detroit. It seemed likely that Duren, who began the season at 18, would be ticketed for time with the Motor City Cruise of the G League. But in late September, the Pistons sent Olynyk to Utah for Bojan Bogdanovic and helped clear a path to playing time for Duren. But it was the teen’s showing in camp that really put an end to the G League notion. His athleticism was on another level from any other big man on the roster and Duren’s natural strength made up for any physical immaturity issues he faced in going against players often several years older. With Bagley down with a preseason knee injury, Duren recorded a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) in his first NBA game and never looked back. He wound up leading all rookies in rebounds (8.9 per game), offensive rebounds (3.4) and dunks (153). He finished with 19 double-doubles in 67 games.

A LOOK AHEAD: Duren, who won’t turn 20 until late November, enters his second season with a foothold in the rotation and figures to split center minutes with James Wiseman, added at the February trade deadline, until one or the other separates himself. Duren missed 15 games with nagging injuries to each ankle, which noticeably affected his mobility and explosion at mid-season and led to the Pistons shutting him down for six games spanning late February and early March. Duren can thrive as nothing more than a rebounder, rim runner, screen setter and shot deterrent, but the Pistons saw enough in practices and more and more in games as the season unfolded to fully expect more when the time is right. Duren displayed some sophisticated footwork and passing skills that will enable Dwane Casey’s successor to gradually expand his responsibilities. Duren exhibited a deft shooting touch around the paint and after a slow start – 10 of 28 over his first 12 games – showed dramatic improvement as a foul shooter, too. Erase the early 10 of 28 and Duren was a 67 percent free-throw shooter. As expected for a teen put in position as the defensive quarterback, Duren often was a half-step slow to react at that end while processing information, but he made strides month over month and left the Pistons convinced he’ll make a defensive impact commensurate with his athleticism and aptitude once he banks more experience. In short, Duren has put himself on a very short list of players at the heart of their foundation for the future.

MONEY QUOTE: “That’s one guy I won’t ever put a ceiling on. As you keep watching him, you just see different things. Coach (Dwane Casey) and I talked early. ‘Troy, this guy won’t be with the (G League Motor City) Cruise. He’ll be with us.’ He’s a very smart young man. Got tremendous gifts. He’s got a chance to be a big-time player.” – Pistons general manager Troy Weaver after the season