Breaking Down Jalen Duren's Potential Fit with Knicks Amid NBA Draft Rumors

Theo SalaunCorrespondent IMay 20, 2022

Memphis center Jalen Duren (2) dunks against Gonzaga during the first half of a second-round NCAA college basketball tournament game, Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

The New York Knicks finished this season outside of the playoffs, but not quite low enough to snag a top-five draft pick. Instead, making their selection at No. 11, the team's options will be at the mercy of those who are higher in the order.

While—presuming the top prospects are all picked early—New York's options may feel limited, there are a number of directions the team can take from the 11th spot. This draft is fairly top-heavy, but the first two tiers open up to an interesting range of players from around No. 7 to No. 13.

Among those prospects, the most buzz seems to surround Memphis center Jalen Duren, Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis and G-League Ignite guard Dyson Daniels. 

New York, then, has a lot of candidates to consider. As far as needs, practically everything is on the table—opening things up even further.

Of the squad's five starters, 21-year-old RJ Barrett is the only player likely fixed into the organization's future. The starting backcourt, Alec Burks and Evan Fournier, are both older than 29, and the starting frontcourt, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson, are shakily regarded and an unrestricted free agent, respectively.

Further, it remains unclear whether any of the team's other young players (Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride and Cam Reddish) are considered long-term starters by coach Tom Thibodeau. 

So, will the front office let Robinson walk and hope to fill his void with Duren, or will they look to one of the intriguing guards or wings? According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, the latter seems most likely.

Overtime @overtime

Jalen Duren was an absolute BEAST in the W over Western Kentucky 💪 22 PTS 19 REB 8/12 FG 5 BLK Memphis is now 4-0 🐅 https://t.co/pb5tq6hLXm

Duren, a 6'11" 18-year-old, certainly fits the Robinson mold. He averaged 12.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a Memphis freshman—delivering some serious flashes of explosiveness along the way. His downsides are similar to Robinson, too, though, as he took zero three-pointers and shot an uninspiring 62.5 percent from the line.

Bouncy, strong big men with rim-running and paint-protecting potential are valuable, but the modern NBA leans toward shooting versatility. None of the remaining four playoff teams start a center taller than 6'10", coincidentally exemplifying this shift away from pure size at the position.

As part of his dive into New York's drafting interests, Berman reported that Knicks sources think Duren is "too much of a project for Thibodeau to sign off on." That may be because the teenager is simply too raw or, in part, because he wants a shooting big or to re-sign Robinson.

Whatever the case may be, the Knicks seem to have different aspirations at No. 11. So far, they have interviewed Mathurin and Davis, per Berman, and Daniels, according to The Athletic's Mike Vorkunov.

As playmakers with shooting potential, the fits next to Barrett are obvious. Of course, the fit is even more obvious for Mathurin—who has already played with Barrett in Canadian National Team camps.

Logan Graffia @thesoulman57

Benedict Mathurin I think is the ideal pick at 8. Y’all are right, no way Ivey slides to 8. I’d prefer him over someone like Dyson Daniels. https://t.co/mBcLO3Msgp

A more polished prospect, the 19-year-old Mathurin is 6'7" and shot 36.9 percent from three this past season. Daniels is also 19 and similarly sized at 6'6", but he showed a streaky jumper this past year, hitting just 25.5 percent of his threes in the G-League Ignite Showcase. Davis was somewhere in the middle, shooting 30.6 percent from deep but averaging 19.7 points with glorious, bucket-filled tape.

Mathurin and Davis are widely projected to be selected somewhere in the No. 5 to No. 13 range, putting the Knicks right in the mix. There's a real chance that both are gone by New York's time on the clock, though. 

If so, Thibodeau may need to reconsider replacing Robinson with the Duren project, as the 19-year-old Daniels may not be pro-ready yet, either.