In the mythic past, there was a story told on the island of Cyprus of a Sculptor-King who made a statue so beautiful the gods gave it life. One has to wonder looking at Jalen Duren if Pygmalion had anything to do with the breathing stonework we see in front of us. Duren is a giant of a man. Actually, he’s not a man, Duren is just barely 18 years old.
Jalen Duren is being underrated by the public at large in the NBA draft discussions. I am here to change your mind about this kid. That is the first thing I would like to point out, Duren is one of if not the youngest player in the draft. He’s 18 months younger than Chet and 12 younger than Paolo the most common #1 and #2 guys on most boards. In fact in the projected top 5 for next year of Victor Wembanyama, Emoni Bates (Duren’s current teammate), Shadeon Sharpe and Amen/Ausar Thompson; Duren is younger than all but Wemby and Bates.
This is Jalen Duren, a 6’11 250 Big out of Memphis, Jalen’s body did not get the memo that it is supposed to be less developed than his draft class peers. He supposedly has a 42” max vertical and a 7’5.25 Wingspan. He was the #1 recruit in the 2023 class till he reclassified at the absolute last minute. His size and age combo is something that should make any draft fan go wild like a fat kid looking at a cheese cake. There is a legitimate argument that from a purely Physical standpoint Duren is the best Athlete/Build combo the NCAA has produced since Shaquille O’Neil. (Note from Jordan’s Lawyers: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Giannis Antetokounmpo all did not come from the NCAA, also we would like to point out that if you sue Jordan over this you are being way too extra and need a hobby.)
Due to those measurements he’s getting a lot of comps to Bam Adebayo but I don’t really love that comp. Bam is more of a weak side shot blocker and a switch defender. Duren is probably closer to Dwight Howard, a primary rim protector who can do some switching. There are times already this season (Specifically against Western Kentucky) that Duren has shown some switching ability on defense but his main skill has been rim protection and even blocking some shots on the perimeter.
So lets talk about my Significant Examples of Now Greatly Underrated Nominee theory or my S.E.N.G.U.N. Theory. Here is the basic premise: “As the discussion of a player’s archetypal value increases the actual value of said player gets lost in the discussion.” Obviously this theory is named after Turkish big man Alperen Sęngün but it can be applied to several players. The reason I want to bring this up is to hopefully put the Archetype discussion into the proper light for our draft discussions.
Firstly, I want to make it clear I think looking at players and their archetypes is an important way to analyze the draft, when looking at what players fit on what team that is exactly what we should be doing. The Pacers with Turbonus should not have drafted our Turkish friend. While other archetypes like say Cade Cunningham’s Point Wing can fit onto multiple roster constructions almost seamlessly. I am not denying that the draft community should value the Cades of the world over the Alperens, however I think that as we turn the focus to much onto Archetypes that can lead to us missing valuable players.
Secondly, I want to caution us about reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. Sometimes we value archetypes so much that we fail to recognize a player within that archetype is not actually that good. A great example of this are the countless “Next Dirk’s” of the 2000’s or the “Next Draymond’s” we are seeing now. One example of this was Bruno Caboclo being drafted because his archetype reminded people of Kevin Durant. When obviously he did not have any of the skills at the required level to develop into that kind of player.
Historically we have had some S.E.N.G.U.N. problems with: 2002’s Carlos Boozer dropping to the second round, Darko Milicic in 2003 was a reverse S.E.N.G.U.N., David Lee in 05, Reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. poster child Andrea Bargani in 06, Marc Gasol suffered from some S.E.N.G.U.N. in 07 but also had some problems with scouting, Hasheem Thabeet was a major reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. in 09, Nikola Vucevic fell out of the lotto in 2011, while people completely miss understanding Kris Middleton’s archetype lead to a S.E.N.G.U.N. problem for him in 2012, 2013 had the craziness of Anthony Bennett going first for some reason but did have a good example of valuing archetype properly with Giannis Anteokounmpo, 2014 had a major reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. with Nik Stauskas who just ended up not being an archetypal movement shooter, 2015 has my biggest archetypal fail when I thought Karl Anthony-Towns was going to be a bust because I thought he was just a soft shooter— thankfully that was only me, 2016 had Domantas Sabonis and reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. Thin… I mean Thon Maker, 2017 had Bam Adebayo and John Collins fall victim to S.E.N.G.U.N. Theory, 2018 Saw Luka Doncic get passed over because of archetype multiple times.
As we can see from the previous paragraph it is not every year that a S.E.N.G.U.N. or reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. problem arises but we do see them fairly often in the past two decades. How do we combat S.E.N.G.U.N. Theory? My advice would be to realize when we are focusing more on the box we have put a prospect into than the player himself. When we recognize this we can then make the determination on how much the archetype conversation is helping or hurting.
In my opinion the players we need to be most worried about S.E.N.G.U.N. effects this year are Duke’s Paolo Bancharo, Memphis’s Jalen Duren, the G-League’s Jaden Hardy, and Baylor’s Matthew Mayer. Reverse S.E.N.G.U.N. candidates to watch out for are TyTy Washington of Kentucky, Yannick Nzosa from the Spanish ACB, Michigan’s Caleb Houstan, Mega Basket “Point Forward” Nikola Jovic, Jean Montero from the Overtime Elite, and Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr. With that Detour out of the way lets get back to Duren.
1. Jalen on defense is a real Game Changer.
In the above clip you see how Duren can do some switches but is still a dominant Drop Big. Most bigs can either switch or drop, Jalen being able to do both well is going to be a huge plus for whatever team drafts him.
2. Jalen’s offensive production will make going small on him almost impossible.
This last highlight is from high school but it still makes my point.
When a team goes small your center has to punish them physically for it. Duren is capable of doing just that.
3. Centers still have value anyway.
Every playoff team has a center that is a main part of their team. (I guess the Mavs don’t but KP is more valuable as a 5 than a 4). The uselessness of Centers has been greatly overstated in the past few years, Centers are still vital for a good defense and Duren is the best defensive prospect in the draft, yes even over Chet Holmgren.
Lets acknowledge Duren’s weaknesses.
I don’t have clips for these but I will try to break them down a bit.
Duren is one of the youngest prospects in this draft as I have pointed out, it means he has more time to figure things out but it also means he has more to figure out, a team investing in Duren probably is looking at at least a two year commitment till he looks like the player he fully could be, there will be bumps along the way.
2. Foul Prone.
Duren is fouling like crazy in his past few games, it was the reason they lost to Iowa St. When he is in foul trouble it kills Memphis’s defense, and with a team that does not have a real point his offensive rebounding and roll man presence are vital to the offense as well. Some bigs figure this out, others like Jaren Jackson Jr and Mitchell Robinson do not.
3. Afraid once in Foul Trouble.
Nathan Gruble (@DraftDeeper on twitter) and I were talking about Duren and he had this to say about his weaknesses, “I think he will be good in time. Right now his game is built off playing hard and it took [takes] him a while to get himself going… Eventually, that can be corrected. But, he’s gotta play harder than what he did the other night [Against West Virginia]. He’s not someone who can play afraid to foul or else you are looking around like, “What else can he do?””
Duren is not going to be a Joel Embiid or Karl Anthony-Towns on Offense but he shows some mid to high post scoring ability and a lot of face up attacking the basket, think more Jermaine O’Neil on offense.
This kid legitimately has a ceiling of Jermaine’s offense with Dwight’s defense. The idea that that isn’t going to be translatable on the next level is laughable. He’s bigger than Dwight was at this age, if the vertical measurement is real then he can out jump rookie Dwight as well. His speed is phenomenal for his size.
Looking at likely lotto teams or even sub likely lotto teams we have: Orlando, Detroit, Toronto, Boston, NY, Houston, NOLA, San Antonio, OKC, Sacramento, Denver, LA, Minnesota, and Memphis could all really use him. The doubters are looking at one thing: he’s a center. He is currently a projected top 5 pick and I just can not really see any way that he doesn’t stay there. Duren Is not the perfect prospect but no one is in this draft, Hopefully he tightens up some of his foul trouble and that will lead to a future star in this league for years to come.
Jordan Ennis lives in West Africa where he is a pastor at an international church, he also co-hosts the Assisted Development Podcast and writes for assisteddevelopmentpod.com. He can be found at Assisted Development Podcast on Facebook and @BaturePreacher on Twitter.