March 13, 2021, 9:12 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to another installment of our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into one of the youngest players currently in the NBA, Sekou Doumbouya of the Detroit Pistons who, unfortunately, hasn’t been making much progress in his second year in the league.
The transition from France to the NBA
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. 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.
After a couple seasons in France, the Pistons selected him with the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, becoming the first player born in Guinea to be drafted. Doumbouya missed his first four games at the 2019 Las Vegas NBA Summer League and spent the beginning of his rookie season in the G League where he had the time to adjust to the speed of the game and the challenges that the NBA presents. The then-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 to climb a mountain before getting regular minutes with the main squad.
In 15 games in G League, 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. When injuries decimated the Pistons, the team had to take a “next man up” mentality approach and Sekou was thrown to the wolves, raising some eyebrows with his energy and ability to become a reliable 3-and-D option.
The Pistons rebuilding (or maybe not?)
After making the playoffs only twice in a span of 10 years, the Pistons decided last year that it was time to move on and started laying out a long-term rebuilding plan. Detroit was excited to see Doumbouya fall to them at No. 15 after questions about his readiness hurt his chances of getting picked in the lottery, but even after showing glimpses of his talent in a short rookie season, there was no discussion about building around him.
Troy Weaver took over the reins in the front office this offseason and the Pistons carefully filled out the roster with players who embodied the culture they were trying to build knows as “Piston Pride.” Before the NBA draft was done, Weaver made significant moves that brought two additional first-round picks and a second-round pick, turning these into Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Saben Lee and lottery pick Killian Hayes. The Pistons were not expected to spend a lot of money in the offseason but the front office was eventually aggressive, bringing in quality veterans like Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee.
Meanwhile, Doumbouya had a productive offseason, joining teammate Svi Mykhailiuk and player development coach JD DuBois in Los Angeles where they focused on all aspects of the game, including his mental approach and understanding that development is a day-to-day process. The French forward came into the season destined as a backup behind Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant at the power forward position, but even with Griffin in and out of the lineup, there still hasn’t been as much playing time for him.
No G League
On the season, Doumbouya is averaging just 13.5 minutes per game, down from nearly 20.0 per game as a rookie and his numbers have dipped across the board, as he is shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and a horrific 25.0 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Pistons had to play Griffin at the beginning of the season while Jerami Grant becoming the cornerstone of the franchise meant that Doumbouya had no clear path to minutes.
What made things even worse was that the kid couldn’t get extended time in the G League with the Grand Rapids Drive, as the team opted not to participate in the G League bubble this season. The G League sometimes gets a stigma for being a minor league, but there is no bigger benefit rather than giving young players a chance to get more reps and playing time when it’s not available with the NBA team. Just look at Aleksej Pokusevski, who struggled early this season but recently returned to the Thunder and is looking more mature and ready for the league.
Many guys come into the league with a single strength, whereas Doumbouya’s main weapon is his overall versatility. Offensively his game is still a work in progress, and even though his stroke has been really smooth since his playing days in France, the lack of game rhythm hasn’t help him acquire the confidence to shoot. Look at this possession where Derrick Rose find Doumbouya for a wide open three at the top of the key but the young man launches a shot with a very high arc and misses badly.
Two-way player, but at which position?
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. Coach Dwane Casey cites Doumbouya’s strength as one of his best attributes, but also point out that maintaining a high level of preparedness is the main issue. The lack of progress in his second year has obviously been disappointing but that doesn’t mean that Detroit is souring on him. The Pistons are nurturing his fundamentals, making sure he focuses on his preparation, his mechanics and overall approach to the game by learning next to some rock-solid veterans.
Strength and the lack of consistent shooting are the primary reasons why the Pistons have opted to use him as a four-man. He can effectively play the passing lanes due to his activity level and get up for blocks both as a primary defender and from the help side, and even though he numbers haven’t been impressive it’s only a matter of time until they come. Look at this possession where Jayson Tatum believes he has an open path to the rim but Doumbouya stays close to him and easily blocks his shot.
And when he is 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 in mismatches. Again, the size, strength and speed are ideal for him to become a modern stretch power forward in the NBA as he is able to cut to the basket and use his size to finish over defenders. Here is another beautiful possession where Doumbouya attacks the rim against Joel Embiid and is able to finish over the big man.
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 after securing the defensive rebound. It’s really unfortunate that the Pistons have many ball handlers at all positions, limiting the chances for the French youngster to get more opportunities at manufacturing assists for his teammates. Here is a great example of Doumbouya running in the open court and finding Jerami Grant for the fast break layup.
So why is Casey not 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. Sekou has shown to 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 position-less 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 great possession that shows his versatility; after closing in on Jrue Holiday and stealing the ball he runs to the other side of the floor where he just misses an easy shot under the rim.
The growing pains that all rookies go through are right there but Casey has been saying good things about him and there is really nothing that says he won’t be able to improve in the next couple years.
It has been hard to evaluate Sekou this year though as the lack of minutes is problematic, even with a squad that clearly is looking to rebuild, so maybe Weaver is also not completely sold on Doumbouya as part of the young core he inherited.
With the news about Detroit buying out Blake Griffin there are minutes available for Sekou and it’s not out of the question that the team plays him more in the second half. The lack of consistent time, though, means that it’s unlikely he becomes standard-league material but I see him as a great buy-low target in dynasty leagues. It’s really tough to believe in him right now given the circumstances but you simply have to keep in mind that he is just 20 years old and the work ethic is there so it’s really just a matter of time that he gets to flourish and find a role in the NBA.
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 March 13th