LAS VEGAS — The Detroit Pistons are a lot fitter than they were a month ago. That was clear Thursday night at the Summer League opener in the high desert, when the team’s two lottery picks made their debuts.
It took less than 15 seconds for Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren to show what the future could be like – soon.
Ivey, a 6-foot-4 combo guard and the team’s No. 5 draft pick, was taking a pass when he rolled on his elbow and shot down the lane. Meanwhile, Duren cuts from the right baseline to the edge. He nodded to Ivey. Ivey handed him the ball, a gentle throw high over the edge, and Duren shot up to grab and dun him.
Not bad for a couple of players who hadn’t spent time together on the practice ground; The trade to acquire majors on draft night was officially sanctioned by the league earlier in the day.
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But then with Ivey’s speed and Duren’s power… and speed, and explosiveness and height (he’s listed at 6-11), who needs a lob?
“He’s got great feet,” Ivey said of his teammate. “He moves well. Whenever I get the opportunity to throw a lob, he’ll make a play.
There’s a big catch radius and then there’s what Duren showed in 11 minutes and 56 seconds of game time in Thursday’s 81-78 win over the Trail Blazers – his minutes were limited due to a lack of practice time. Pistons coach Dwane Casey compared Duren to former All-Star Shawn Kemp at the rookies’ inaugural press conference two weeks ago.
And while that’s a high comp, watching Duren rise to the top of the court on the backboard to vacuum passes in his Summer League debut makes Casey’s statement — hope? – more plausible.
“His athletics are next level,” said Jordan Brink, the Pistons’ Summer League coach. “We just told him to go out and have fun. Show your athleticism, show your skills. I thought he did a really good job. Lots of stuff to clean up, but we have practice for that tomorrow.”
Duren is 18. He was the youngest player in the draft. And even in a game where central position isn’t the linchpin it once was, barring a few uniquely qualified breakaways like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, Duren’s debut revealed the promise of a game-changing force.
The Boston Celtics reached the NBA Finals in part because of Robert Williams, a 6-9 shot blocker and rim guard who anchored the league’s best defense in the final half of the season. Duren could be similar, with more lob radius and better offensive footwork overall.
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At least he showed why Troy Weaver traded for him on draft night. The Pistons general manager loves sportsmanship. It worked for the last franchise he helped build in Oklahoma City.
Now he’s busy. he is raw But skill is also required here. Not just lob-catching gifts, but real basketball skills.
Duren showed a decent touch on a turn, kicked a pass to an open shooter and attempted to thread a bounce pass to a teammate he thought was cutting the back door. His teammate doesn’t. Duren’s pass went wide.
Still, he saw the angle open. What’s more revealing is that he foresaw the possibility.
Those are instincts that Casey and his staff can work with. Just as they can work with Ivey’s otherworldly outburst.
He too has a lot to do. And he’s going to have a lot of nights this season that look like his debut where he hits the gas and pulls darn close to G-Force on his way into the lane and ends up not having a good spot to go to.
Or lying on the floor and watching the ball he just lost roll away. Young players with such gifts need time to understand what to do with them.
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And as Ivey said after the game, he hasn’t played much basketball in his life where he couldn’t just run past whoever he wanted. As fast as he is, full-out won’t always work in the NBA. His advantage in speed and explosiveness isn’t on the same level as Purdue.
Still, he’ll have plenty of moments where even the league’s best players don’t stand a chance of staying with him. He showed those moments on Thursday, especially in the second half when he slowed down and began to feel the speed and pace of the game, hitting the afterburners after overlooking from a calm position.
Like he did on his last bucket late in the game, taking a pass and throwing in a couple of dribbles before darting around and between defenders and sliding to the rim to hang up the dagger. He hopped back down the court and turned to the edge of the court to meet Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey who are here to practice and build chemistry with the rookies.
“My work was trying to slow down,” Ivey said. “As soon as I got into a rhythm, the game opened up.”
Ivey scored 20 points on 14 shots and made his free throws in the clutch. He was more happy about his six assists. Many of them came after he blitzed down the alley and whipped the ball to his shooters.
“I found teammates,” he said, “that’s the best feeling.”
This is where Ivey will live as a rookie when he’s at his best: the paint. Either to beat himself up – he had a couple of smooth finishes against Portland – or to find his boys.
Speed does that. Controlling and using that speed to manipulate the court will do even more.
“I went 100% fast all the time in college,” he said. “In this league you have to change the pace.”
It will be a while before he gets there. As it becomes Duren. But both had the kind of moments that justified the excitement their arrival on draft night created.
you are young And they are talented. And while it’s just the Summer League, the season can’t come soon enough.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.