January 18, 2020, 2:19 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to another installment of our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into the youngest player currently in the NBA who has been making some noise recently, Sekou Doumbouya of the Detroit Pistons.
Terrorizing the French League
Doumbouya was born in Guinea, West Africa but moved to France as an infant and not surprisingly, he started with soccer before his height forced him into basketball. His father, who was unable to receive a visa, remained in Guinea as a member of its military, and as a result Sekou became the leader for the rest of his family, often advising his siblings.
He burst onto the NBA radar at the FIBA Under-18 European Championship in 2016 where he scored 31 points against Serbia, helping his team win the gold medal and being named to the All-tournament team despite being just 15 years old. The 6’9”, 231-pounder played with Poitiers Basket 86 of the LNB Pro B, the second-tier French league, before moving to Limoges CSP of the LNB Pro A last year, participating in 29 games and averaging 7.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in a tough league with many veterans.
Gaining the trust of his teammates he was able to produce many highlights using his explosive athleticism against smaller defenders, topping his FIBA performance with a 34-point effort late in the season.
The Pistons and their lack of a long-term plan
Pistons fans absolutely enjoyed the era of the “Bad Boys” in the 90’s and the second coming of it in the 00’s where they stunned the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 2004, but nothing resembles the success of these years lately. It’s been now more than a decade of attempts to rebuild on the fly with the franchise being stuck in the middle and no concrete plan to get out.
The Pistons have been able to make the playoffs only twice in the last 10 years, getting swept both times, while poor decisions with their draft picks and opting for short-term patches instead of a long-term approach has left them hanging in the middle of nowhere. As a result, after last year’s success, this was a roster loaded with veterans and no young pieces to build on other than Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown.
The Pistons were excited to see Doumbouya fall to them at No. 15 this last summer as questions about his readiness hurt his chances of getting picked into the lottery. There was no discussion about building around him though as the team was aggressive in free agency, securing the signature of Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris, while trading for Tony Snell in order to fill in their gap at the small forward position.
A disaster start and the opportunity for the rookie
Blake Griffin had a tremendous 2018-19 season, becoming an All-Star and averaging a career-high 24.5 points, but the Pistons really missed out on a golden opportunity to trade him. His health has always been an issue and he came into the season not ready, playing sparingly, and eventually being forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery a couple weeks ago while facing an extended rehabilitation period with no timetable set for his return. Reggie Jackson played only in 2 games before being forced to sit with a back issue and the Pistons seems to have finally come to peace with the reality that has been staring at them in the face for years.
When injuries put them down three starters a few weeks ago, the team had to take a “next man up” approach and Sekou Doumbouya was thrown to the wolves.
The plan from Day 1 was for the rookie to get G-League seasoning, even though the team didn’t really have anyone with his skill set. The rookie suffered health setbacks with a hamstring injury that limited his offseason workouts and a concussion that forced him to miss preseason games. When he joined the Grand Rapid Drive in October it had been almost five months since he last played in a game so it was clear that the he had a mountain to climb before getting regular minutes with the main squad. He wasted no time showing his skills and in 15 games he averaged 16.7 points and 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks while hitting 2.1 triples on good percentages from the field and from the free throw line.
The Pistons can absolutely use the extra shooting and the defensive versatility he offers and his development seems to be the main focus of a franchise that will be looking to move on from Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and maybe Andre Drummond soon.
Many guys come into the league with a single strength, whereas Doumbouya’s main weapon is his overall versatility. Offensively, everyone thought that his game was more of a work in progress, but the rookie has been hitting his shots (37.5 from behind the arc) and attacking relentlessly when opponents close out on him. His stroke has been really smooth since his playing days in France and it’s one of his main strengths in a league where he gets to face better defenders.
To be honest, he is one of the rare guys where his shot looks good even when he misses and it’s great to see the Pistons giving him the green light to launch from anywhere in the court. Look at this beauty where LeBron James skips the scouting report and lets the rookie drop a high-arc shot from the top of the key.
By making his threes, the French forward has made his life easier on the offensive side of the floor where the Pistons rotate the ball and find him on mismatches. He size is ideal for the small forward position in the NBA and he is able to cut to the basket and use his size to finish over defenders. Look at him recognizing the close-out from Kemba Walker and attacking the Celtics with a nice spin move in the post. Another underrated part of his game seems to be his handle as he has shown good vision and is very comfortable running the ball in the open court as he can grab and go off defensive rebounds, attacking the rim in transition.
Doumbouya has an athletic profile that had scouts running comparisons to Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is tall, long, athletic, and fluid, skills that make a difference, especially on the defensive end. He can play the passing lanes and get up for blocks both as a primary defender and from the help side and even though his numbers haven’t been impressive it’s only a matter of time until they come. With Andre Drummond dominating in the middle there are fewer rebounding opportunities for him even though he hits the glass often.
The rookie refuses to get bullied in the middle and he is able to surprise opponents with his length and quickness. Look at this possession where he doesn’t surrender after being switched on a LeBron-AD screen, blocking Davis’ shot.
Why is Casey playing him?
Dwane Casey did a great job in Toronto developing young guys like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby but he has always been tough with his rookies, expecting them to earn their place in the rotation instead of simply giving them the minutes. Coming into his first season in the NBA, the knock on Doumbouya’s game was the lack of experience, as he has played professional basketball for only seven years. That’s one side of the story though as Sekou, while playing against older and far more experienced professional players, he embraced the challenge, getting prepared for the future and for a situation in which he finds himself today. He has shown Casey the one thing the veteran coach most wanted the rookie to show: a high-level motor and intensity on both sides of the floor at all times.
The way he runs the floor and his lateral quickness is a great fit in today’s modern game of positionless basketball as he is big enough to post up smaller guards, strong enough to push off defenders on his drives, and skilled enough to play out of the pick and roll with the ball in his hands. Here is a possession that probably had Casey salivating.
The Pelicans try to attack him with a switch that leaves Lonzo Ball with a clear path to the basket but Sekou eats him alive and then quickly runs on the other side of the floor, recognizing a poor rim protector like Jahlil Okafor. Most coaches will tell you that they really don’t mind the missed layup, on the contrary it’s this kind of plays that energize teams.
“It’s amazing what happens when you run the floor both ways, good things happen,” said Casey recently talking about his rookie.
The youngest player in the NBA is clearly not perfect and a lot of it is evident on the offensive side of the ball where Doumbouya often finds himself in the wrong position, but his teammates have been very supportive, directing him to the places he needs to be. Fouling is also an issue (2.5 in 17.8 minutes per game) as well as free throw shooting and getting to the line in general. Still these are growing pains that all rookies go through and there is nothing that says that he won’t be able to improve in the next couple years.
It took a while for the French forward to hear his name on draft night but he ended up with a team that really had a need for his skills. For all my regulars of the International Spotlight features, you already know that during the summer I emphasized the fact that Sekou possesses as much fantasy upside as anyone outside of the top three picks in this draft since he has the potential to average a steal, a block and a three right off the bat.
The growth of his game has been rapid after he joined the Pistons and it’s clear that the kid has already a place in the league. He should hit the rookie wall at some point soon but Casey has been preaching patience and it’s certain that Detroit won’t risk burning their young forward with too much responsibility so early in his career. Still, the Pistons are going nowhere this season and it’s likely that they play him plenty of minutes with Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown later this season, so even though he doesn’t look to be standard-league material yet, he has the potential to be a contributor in fantasy playoffs.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of January 18th.