Houston Rockets Twitter and, in particular, Rockets draft Twitter has recently become enamored with University of Memphis freshman center Jalen Duren. The hyper-athletic big man is one of college basketball’s best shot blockers and oozes defensive potential.
However, landing the Duren in the draft could prove difficult. At the moment, the Rockets are projected to have a top-5 pick and the 16th pick via Brooklyn in the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Rockets look unlikely to slide outside of the top-5, and Brooklyn, with a now healthy Kevin Durant, should be expected to move up the standings and down the draft board.
Duren is ranked as the sixth-best prospect by ESPN, the 15th best by Sports Illustrated, the 13th by Tankathon, 11th by Bleacher Report, and 8th by CBS. In other words, Duren appears unlikely to be worthy of the Rockets’ pick and too talented to fall to where their Brooklyn pick will land.
Rafael Stone could always trade back or trade up in the draft to land him, but until that happens, Duren appears to be just out of Houston’s reach.
Duren could always move up draft boards with an impressive NCAA tournament. If Memphis and Gonzaga win their first-round matchups he could battle against presumptive top-3 pick Chet Holmgren in the second round and bolster his draft case.
The opposite could happen too. There’s a world Duren struggles against another player with NBA-level traits and gives front offices pause about making him a lottery selection.
Instead of discussing the minutia of Duren being selected by Houston, let's dig into what makes him both a tantalizing prospect and a player that is far from a consensus top-10 pick.
Jalen Duren: The Good
It only takes one second to understand why Duren has captured the imagination of so many Rockets fans. He is an adonis. He possesses a long chiseled frame (6’11 height and 7’5 wingspan) that should be able to add weight without sacrificing mobility. With the top-3 players in the league, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo being behemoth centers having a physically imposing center might be a requirement for contention.
Duren isn’t just a seven-foot bodybuilder. He is incredibly athletic and possesses rare lateral mobility for a player his size. He is an exceptional shot blocker and should be effective from day one as a rim protector and rim runner.
The final mark in his favor is his age. Duren won’t turn 19 until November, and he projects to be the youngest player selected in the draft.
Jalen Duren: The Bad
Duren uses his massive physical advantages to great effect, but that is currently all he has. While that allows him to rack up highlights, especially against lower levels of competition, they won’t be so pronounced in the NBA. Remember, JaVale McGee had all the physical traits to be an excellent center, and he has maxed out as an excellent backup.
Duren’s feel for the game worries some scouts and there’s a good chance he is effectively a non-shooter. That’s not a deal-breaker for him being an effective NBA player, but it does mean his offensive utility could be predicated on who his lead guard is.
Rim running centers, to be effective on offense, need an excellent pick-and-roll guard setting them up. Could Jalen Green or Kevin Porter Jr become that one day? Sure, but trading back or up in a draft to select Duren in the hopes that that occurs is not the best way to use your draft assets.
Duren’s roadmap to a long NBA career is developing into an elite defensive center and being paired with an excellent pick-and-roll partner.
Jalen Duren: The Verdict
The Rockets could use a defensive anchor but on offensive Duren could struggle to do anything more than clog the paint and grab offensive rebounds early on. The Duren hype is completely warranted. He could be great, but he could also be a career backup that sneaks onto Sports Center Top-10 semi-regularly.
If he slides to the 16th pick or so, then the Rockets shouldn’t hesitate to select him. At that point, it’s good value. However, trading out of the top-5, selecting him in the top-7, or trading up into the low teens would be a significant reach or investment of assets on a player that could struggle to make an impact early on and displace Alperen Sengun.
Jalen Duren is a prospect to be excited about, but he isn’t the prospect Rockets fans should dream on. That’s not a slight, it’s just acknowledgment of where the current roster and draft picks stand.