Detroit Pistons: Jalen Duren is similar to another dominant big man

center Jalen Duren (0) . Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
center Jalen Duren (0) . Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Coming off a 12-point, 13-rebound performance in Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans, it’s time to ask the question: does Jalen Duren deserve more minutes for the Detroit Pistons?

Most would agree Duren is raw but full of untapped potential that can be realized. There is no better season to get Duren the reps needed to grow into the player we all know he can be.

The Detroit Pistons have a bottom three record in the NBA, will be missing the focal point of their offense for the foreseeable future, and are staring down another draft lottery just a quarter of the way into the season.

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But I’m here to tell you it’s not all doom and gloom with this one player comparison. Jalen Duren is a young Dwight Howard.

There I said it. Here’s the case.

Detroit Pistons: Jalen Duren on a Dwight Howard trajectory

Jalen Duren is currently the youngest player in the NBA, having just turned 19 back in November.

Playing for basketball factory Montverde in high school, Duren has been laying the foundations for his NBA career for years. He was the number one prospect in the class in 2022 until he re-classed to join Memphis, dropping him down to the 7th on the ESPN 100 for 2021.

The pedigree is there, and that’s why the Detroit Pistons got a steal by acquiring the rights to Duren, the 13th pick in draft. Memphis traded the pick to the Knicks, who then flipped it to the Pistons in a salary dump on Kemba Walker’s contract. Troy Weaver worked his magic.

Coming to the league, Dwight Howard held just as impressive of a profile. He was also drafted at age 18, this time first overall by the Orlando Magic in 2004. This being the second to last draft class featuring players straight out of high school.

Howard measured in at 6-foot-10, 240 lbs at his draft combine, Duren is currently listed at 6-foot-11, 250 lbs. By the end of Howard’s time in Orlando he had gained 25 pounds, something that is very possible for Duren.

With almost identical frames, the similarities don’t stop there. Dwight Howard came into the league ready to dominate, a tenacious rebounder and rim rocker. The same can be said of Duren.

In Jalen Duren’s first game, he scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had three highlight blocks against the Magic. Howard’s debut for Orlando was 12 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks.

Looking at the totality of Howard’s rookie season – he started all 82 games, averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. He grabbed an impressive 3.5 offensive rebounds per game and finished 52 percent of his shot attempts.

Dwight Howard averaged 32.6 minutes per game as the Magic were really leaning on him for production.

Jalen Duren’s rookie year numbers are less impressive so far, but he is doing it in just 21.5 minutes per game.

Duren is averaging 6.6 points per game to go along with 6.8 rebounds and close to a block per game. He is shooting over 61 percent from the field on mostly dunks and put-backs, but has recently been showing off a little turn around jumper.

It’s easy to look at Duren and Howard and notice similarities in their build, game, and dominance at a early age.

The real feat comes with projecting Duren’s future.

Howard ending up making the All-Rookie team and appeared in his first All-Star game by year three. In that same season he made All-NBA third team and the only a year later he made All-NBA first team.

Dwight showed promise in his rookie season, but his career took off faster than most expected. He was one of the biggest stars in the league just a couple years into his career.

By the end of his prime in Orlando, Howard had won three defensive player of the year awards, made seven straight All-Star teams, led the team to a NBA Finals appearance.

Almost as important as Dwight’s dominance was his durability. He didn’t miss any real time from injury until his 8th year in the league. He played in all 82 games in four of his first eight seasons.

So what does all of this mean for Jalen Duren?

He could progress at this rate, but it’s a little unlikely. Almost 20 years after Dwight’s dominant run in Orlando, the league is in a much different place. Dominant post players have been largely eradicated in favor of a more flexible, fluid big man. Duren is a good mix of the two.

While Duren may not have the complete defensive arsenal that Howard did, he makes up for it on the offensive end. He has much more shooting and playmaking potential than Howard ever had.

A more likely result for Duren is a prime that peaks later than Howard’s, but potentially lasts longer.

Howard was a net-negative asset by his 30th birthday, only recently becoming an important piece of a championship team again with the Lakers in 2020. Jalen Duren’s goal should be to extend his dominance well into his 30’s.

It is still unknown exactly what the Detroit Pistons have with Jalen Duren. He shows flashes of brilliance and makes mistakes you would expect any teenager to make the NBA.

Dwight Howard was close to a certainty, Jalen Duren is a little different.

If NBA history has taught us anything it’s that drafting in the back of the lottery is a dart throw. Some darts hit, and others miss.

I’m not saying that the Detroit Pistons have a sure thing in Duren, but from what he’s shown us so far, the Pistons may have hit the bullseye.

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