Updated: Jun 15
Jalen Duren terrorized the paint on defense in his lone season at Memphis, emphatically sending away shots that entered his air space. This is the third of five mini articles that will focus on the top big men in the 2022 NBA Draft and their ability to defend, notably with unique tracking data geared toward exactly how they accrued their blocked shots during this past season and what we can learn from them.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Bjorn Zetterberg continues ‘Data Tracking,’ a new series that explores some of the nitty-gritty nuances surrounding different groups of 2022 NBA Draft prospects. Up next: Memphis’ Jalen Duren:
Standing at 6’11” with a 7’5” wingspan, chiseled frame, and the ability to jump out of the gym, Duren is an imposing athletic and physical player to say the least. On defense, he is a lurking predator who flies around the paint. His presence isn’t to be taken lightly, especially from unsuspecting basket attackers, as he preys on lofty shot attempts by swooping in from the weak side. How he gets his blocked shots looks impressive and are often highlights, but there are notable areas for improvement as we explore how Duren gets his blocks.
Duren is very good at high-pointing shot attempts on defense, showing off his explosive leaping ability and length to turn looks away just as they are about to reach their peak. He has a tendency to wind up and take off of two feet to swat at shots, often out of bounds or off the backboard. He’s a freewheeling shot blocker who generally elevates with good timing and anticipation. With his spring, Jalen can often out jump the shooter with both arms raised and will usually follow through with the closest hand to the ball. That intimidating standing reach even shows up when he’s grounded around the paint, as he got a handful of blocks holding position with both arms raised.
Jalen has a keen awareness reading help defense, as over 75-percent of his blocks came from off ball, by far the highest of the group of bigs in this study, and the highest total despite a considerably lower volume of blocks than the other prospects. However, he had a low rate of vertical defensive contests by naturally coming off help and trying to high point blocks at their apex, avoiding mid-air contact. When he did face contact in-air he was largely unmoved, absorbing the hit on 10 of 13 blocks where there was significant contact initiated from the shooter, a very high rate, showcasing his strength. He's developing his technique on vertical challenges, showing a tendency to angle his arms downward but looks great when he keeps his arms up, letting his length and leaping do the work instead of swatting.
Fouling is a likely issue at the next level, as Duren had 4+ fouls in 9 of his 29 games as a freshman. He also had one of the highest foul rates for any big man in the 2022 Draft class. He commits some unnecessary fouls like jersey holding off ball, half-hearted grounded lunge contests at the basket, grabbing his man while fighting for position off ball, and overly aggressive denial of post entry passes. He gets a fair portion of off ball fouls in loose ball and rebounding situations as well, not to mention moving screens.
As vertical technique improves at the rim his foul rate should be cut down, too. If a big must expend their fouls, then those are the situations to spend them on: protecting the basket. The impractical fouling should lessen with experience and coaching, but also on his 20-percent (apprx.) vertical contest rate in the paint, a sub-median number. Verticality situations didn’t seem to be a major problem from him dropping his arms, but more from lower body contact into the shooter mid-air.
An 18-year-old freshman with an elite block percentage in college basketball is relatively infrequent, not to mention incredibly impressive. At the NBA level, Duren should have an immediate impact on the defensive end, provided he can stay out of foul trouble, and possess the athleticism to hang on the perimeter if forced into a switch. As the tracking data demonstrates, he’s a unique combination of finesse and power on defense, soaring through the air on help D but able to hold verticality through contact at the rim. There’s a lot to like about Duren as a prospect defensively, and those gifts should only sharpen with time.
Bjorn has worked in the NBA for about a decade as an associate analyst with the Orlando Magic, Video Analyst Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers and Advance Scout for the Idaho Stampede. You can follow him on twitter @bjornzetterberg and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.