San Antonio Spurs 8th Overall Pick: Jalen Duren
Scouts have seemingly been having a very difficult time getting a good read on Jalen Duren this season. As time has gone on, it has become increasingly clear that he isn’t in the best of situations on a poorly-constructed Memphis Tigers team.
Head coach Penny Hardaway has made some questionable coaching decisions that have led to some very mixed results, the worst of which being experimenting with Emoni Bates as the team’s primary ball-handler. Despite the team not having a true point guard to feed Duren the rock, though, he’s still managed to show some undeniably enticing flashes of brilliance on both ends of the floor.
Turning the clock back to his days at Montverde Academy, Duren was a bonafide defensive juggernaut that swatted away just about any shot that came in his relative direction. His I.Q. on that end of the floor, even now, is borderline alien for a player that could technically still be in high school this year. This, above all else, is what I think will raise a lot of eyebrows in the Spurs’ front office.
Duren’s combination of size (already standing at 6’11” and weighing 250 pounds), youth, and feel for the game on defense is unmatched this season, even if players like Chet Holmgren and Walker Kessler are making a bigger impact on stat sheets at the same position. He’s far more switchable compared to any other current frontcourt player on the Spurs’ roster, is a fantastic rebounder, and has shot-blocking instincts that give off shades of Jakob Poeltl. His defensive upside is all but limitless.
While he hasn’t shown quite as much on the other end of the floor up to this point, Duren’s offense is nothing to scoff at, either. Immediately upon entry into the league, he will be able to use his freakish strength, athleticism, and massive catch radius to be a constant lob threat.
While his skill set is not quite where it needs to be yet, his flashes of midrange shooting and short roll passing make me very optimistic that he’ll become a big problem for opposing defenses in due time. While he’s received more comparisons to Chris Webber and Dwight Howard as the season has gone on, I think the Spurs should approach his development with Bam Adebayo being a more realistic, yet ideal outcome.
Placing Duren next to a proper point guard like Dejounte Murray in a system that values hard-nosed defense and unselfish offense should do wonders for his overall game in the long run. While Duren’s fit with the Spurs is questionable, if the front office will be looking to flip Poeltl for draft assets and/or young players in the near future, then selecting Duren as his replacement could be a good long-term play with a tremendous payout.