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Know the Prospect: Jalen Duren

A big center with limited scoring range. Got one already!

Memphis v Boise State Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the formative years of my basketball fandom, Patrick Ewing reigned supreme. I was too late for Bernard King but arrived just in time to catch Patrick’s 1989-90 season, in which he averaged 28.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, four blocks, and a steal in 38.6 minutes per night. Oh, and he played in all 82 games. With Stu Jackson as his coach! That year, the New York Knicks captured my heart, and Patrick set the bar impossibly high for all future Knickerbockers.

Alright, I admit that the unlikely-hero John Starks became my favorite Knick two years later, but Patrick was always the boss, and my adoration for him has never faltered. Still today, whenever I evaluate a center in the NBA draft, part of me always hold the young buck against my beloved Hoya. Sure, it’s unfair because those are hard size 15’s to fill, but it’s true.

Three decades after Ewing’s masterful season, one of the prizes of the 2022 draft might turn out to be another center, Jalen Duren. In 29 games for the Memphis Tigers, the freshman averaged 12 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks, and shot 59.7% from the floor with a Player Efficiency Rating of 25.3. With Duren, however, the stats are secondary to his hefty measurements and intriguing potential.

Despite being only 18-years old, the 6’11”, 250 lbs Duren looked like a lion among gazelles last season. He has hands the size of softball mitts (slight exaggeration), and his arms reach a whopping 7’5”. For comparison, he’s got an inch on Evan Mobley’s 7’4” wingspan. Duren offers rim protection for days! And the dude is still growing!

Let’s watch Jalen stomp some collegiate competition:

If you squint, does remind you at all of Dwight Howard? Maybe Andre Drummond? He’s certainly not Patrick but does have a bit of those other guys in him.

In his brief career, the blue chip recruit out of Sharon Hill, PA has collected his share of awards:

  • 2021-22 AAC All-Freshman
  • 2021-22 AAC Rookie of the Year
  • 2021-22 All-AAC - 1st Team
  • 2021-22 Wooden Award - Preseason
  • 2022 All-AAC Tournament

Clearly, he’s physically ready for the NBA. Since quite a few teams need a vertical guy who can defend the rim, clean the glass, and feast on lobs, he shouldn’t languish on the Draft board for long. However, although his reel provides plenty of highlights, there are also a few notes of caution.

Under coach Penny Hardaway, the tall Tiger did not expand his offensive skillset beyond catch and flush. Unless paired with dynamic scorers and a lead ball-handler who can dish up those lobs, this diamond will have to sparkle on defense to warrant 25+ minutes per contest coming out of the gate.

Sure, there were flashes of a fadeaway in later games this season and moments when his form showed promise, so he’s not a hopeless case. Access to professional coaching and development on the NBA level will surely improve his game somewhat. We’re probably not talking huge leaps and bounds, though.

On Wednesday’s Locked on Knicks podcast, guest Rafael Barlowe said, “I’ve seen some people try to compare him to Bam [Adebayo], because he’s shown some flashes of being able to make good passes out of the high post and low post. I don’t know if he has Bam’s ball-handling… For upside, I would go Duren. For right now, I would go Mark Williams.”

Of the two centers, Barlowe is higher on Williams, a 7’0”, floor spacing sophomore from Duke who averaged 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds in 39 games this season and shot 72% from the floor. I tend to agree with Rafael, but I signed up to write about Duren, so on Jalen let’s remain.

The New York Knicks are currently set to pick 11th in this year’s draft. The Mitchell Robinson situation appears to remain unsettled. Will he be back? Won’t he? Without Mitch, and barring any additions, the Knicks would be looking at a rotation of Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims, and Taj Gibson at center.

I’m a shamelessly Kool-Aid-drunk member of Team-Jericho, but the padawan has more to learn; Nerlens was the invisible man last year, playing only 25 games due to injury; and Taj has played 896 NBA games and is rounding the corner on 37-years old (ancient!). The Knicks need a big, healthy body for insurance. They could snag Duren, teach him the Patrick Ewing jump shot, and one day hang his jersey from Dolan’s rafters. Or, like, he could be a total bust.

Will Duren blossom and one day be on par with number 33? Anything’s possible…but I’ll say nope for now and beg forgiveness if he proves me wrong later. Here’s a more realistic question: Is he better than Mitch? I doubt that, too, but he would be an inexpensive replacement if the Cajun flees the Big Apple for Thibodeau-freedom. Third (and sorta rhetorical) question: Do we really want the Knicks to swap one physically gifted but offensively-limited center with another? Weren’t we gaga about Myles Turner’s range just a few months ago?

Bah. I’m crawling back to my happy place to watch Ewing highlights for the rest of the day. I’ll leave you with Duren going hungry-hungry-hippo against UCF, collecting 21 points (8-for-14 from the floor, 5-for-7 from the line), 20 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Peace til next time.