Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, drafted No. 5 and No. 13, respectively, by the Detroit Pistons in June, could be key parts to what the franchise calls its “restoration.” Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
LAS VEGAS — IT’S the finalgame of opening night at the Thomas & Mack Center, and the crowd — some Detroit Pistons fans, some Portland Trail Blazers fans and the rest just folks itching for some sports action in the middle of the offseason — arises in jubilation on a single play.
The Pistons win the opening tip, and guard Killian Hayes, the No. 7 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, dribbles the ball up the floor. From his left, Jaden Ivey, this year’s No. 5 pick, dashes around a screen, with the Blazers’ summer league defense helplessly trailing behind.
Ivey catches the bounce pass and blasts toward the paint. While he does, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Jalen Duren, the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft, sneaks his way near the basket, Portland all but ignoring the rookie center. Then, with the flick of his wrist, Ivey lobs a high pass to Duren, who snatches it midair for the two-handed slam.
One play — during summer league, no less — is the epitome of small-sample theater.
But the Pistons, losers of 157 games over the past three seasons, hope it’s a glimpse of something more, a future they’re three years into building.
“You feel [Duren] when he’s out there,” an Eastern Conference scout told ESPN. “[With Ivey], they got the two most athletic players in the draft.”
Ivey, who scored a team-high 20 points on 14 shots in the Pistons’ 81-78 victory, is — the Pistons believe — the perfect complement to Cade Cunningham, the 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick.