Rookies Ivey and Duren bring electric athletic jolt to Pistons

When Hamidou Diallo arrived at the Pistons 18 months ago, midway through Troy Weaver’s first season as Pistons general manager, he joined a roster where he immediately and emphatically became the team’s best athlete.

The night of the 2022 draft put this honorific in grave danger.

“When you say Jalen and Jaden, those guys can run. They can fly,” smiles Diallo, shaking his head. “It’s going to be exciting. Jalen, a great shot blocker – he’s caught me a few times. To see him protect the rim and Jaden, a guy who can dribble and go through anyone, is something in itself.

You can’t solve all of a rebuilding team’s needs in one player or one draft, though Cade Cunningham’s landing as the No. 1 pick in 2021 gave Weaver’s restoration project a vast ramp. launch. He entered the 2022 offseason intent on filling an obvious void in the roster and walked away with Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, considered by many to be the two most athletic players in the draft.

“That area – athletics,” Weaver said when asked what he wanted to add for the upcoming season. “I thought we were pretty solid. I think you’ve seen how adding Jalen and Jaden will add to that, make us more explosive, for sure.

Even among the bell curve of NBA players — all of whom would be clustered on the far right of the general public — Ivey and Duren stand out for the things they do that others can’t.

Killian Hayes uses the same descriptor — “incredible athlete” — when discussing Duren and Ivey in separate conversations.

“Jaden is just an amazing athlete,” Hayes said of Purdue’s second take fifth by the Pistons. “We see him in practice, catching a rebound, going coast to coast. Very athletic. A great guy too. Duren, he said, hit him for “his engine.” He’s an incredible athlete. You’re all going to see a lot of highlights this season.

The effects of that athleticism become clearer as the Pistons go through training camp practices and the integration stages of their two early recruits — Ivey, 20, and Duren, 18 and the NBA’s youngest player. as 13e choose after one season in Memphis.

“With Ivey, it opens the field. He breaks the defense,” Dwane Casey said. “You get the defense in rotation, they have to help you. He goes where he wants with the ball, but he slows down and makes good decisions after the dribble and it’s difficult for a rookie. It’s impressive of him. Then Duren, protecting the rim. It goes after all to the rim. It has a deterrent effect on the rim and you should always have it.

Athletics in and of themselves don’t get players very far in their NBA careers, which is why it’s worth noting when Casey and his players mention the other things rookies have brought out to impress them. Ivey’s game was eye-opening.

“One skill he has that hasn’t really been demonstrated is his passing skills,” Casey said. “He does a great job of separating defences.”

Cunningham, who thinks he’s often paired up with Ivey, finally figured out Ivey’s athleticism, but only after checking off the other things the rookie showed him.

“He’s going to make things a lot easier for everyone. He has a good sense of the game and he wants to win. It is something that is easy to see. He wants to play through his team. He likes to share the ball. All of those things are something you like to see in someone joining the team. His athleticism, his speed, that’s something that will help us. He brings a different dynamic to our team with his athleticism, his skills. I am delighted to speak with him.

Duren displayed a touch of shooting on face-up jumps more advanced than the book on him. And he bounced back to a high level, Casey said.

Veteran Cory Joseph has brought up Russell Westbrook as an athletic comparison for Ivey, which puts him in rare company.

“Ivey is quick, man. Everyone knows that,” he said as training camp was about to begin. “He’s a ball out there in the field. He brings another dynamic in terms of picking up the pace, getting into the open ground, which is something we need to do more of. I can see flashes of Westbrook, that quick twitch he has in terms of shifting. There are a lot of guys, but we’ll go with this one for now.

After a few practices, Joseph saw how the two rookies are making an impact.

“They are really athletic. During practice, you can see it. It only raises the level of play in training due to their athleticism and speed. Jalen’s blocking ability, you have to think about the game more.”

As they continue to make their mark on the Pistons’ workouts, the chances of them having the chance to similarly affect the games increase.

“We really wanted to get more athletic,” Weaver said. “And I think we did it with these two young men.”

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