When the Detroit Pistons selected Sekou Doumbouya with the 15th pick in this year’s draft, he was not only the first international player selected, he was also the youngest clocking in at just 18 years 10 months on opening night.
The NBA community did not have a wealth of information about the prospect going into the draft, seeing how he’s only played organized basketball for the past five years, but his projected ceiling, due to his size, athleticism, and ability to absorb the game as quickly as he has, was high enough for him to be a guaranteed first round pick and garner some way-too-early Pascal Siakam comps.
But now the question(s) remain — what’s next? And when can we expect whatever “it” is?
Last year and Preseason
Doumbouya’s previous club, Limoges CSP, is out of the French A league - that has produced NBA players including Rudy Gobert, Tony Parker, Evan Fournier and Frank Ntilikina among many others. It’s a league that’s filled with veterans, journeymen and younger prospects, and while not as grueling or talented as the NBA - it is certainly more competitive and physical compared to college ball. The fact that Doumbouya was able to carve himself out a substantial role with the club should be encouraging since those teams are not solely focused on grooming prospects to be drafted in the NBA.
Last year with Limoges CSP, he averaged 18 minutes per game in 35 games played across the regular season and EuroCup - scoring 7.6 points per game, while shooting 61% from two. His strongest and most NBA-ready attribute is running the floor, and finishing at the rim. Once he’s able to log some minutes this year, Detroit should look to utilize Doumbouya in transition as much as possible. At his size, he’s one of the few players on the roster that can take it coast to coast and finish at the cup with ease, as illustrated below.
He also showcased an ability to knock down a three, hitting 33% of his 2.2 attempts per game. And while his numbers are below league average from a shorter arc, his mechanics look good and should eventually translate to the NBA once he’s ready for regular minutes. It may take some time before you’ll see Doumbouya regularly hoist it from deep, but know that this is going to be one of the primary areas the player development coaches will concentrate on throughout the course of the year (shoutout BasketBall Highlights - Bente’ for the clips).
Following his time overseas, Doumbouya joined the Pistons and played 20 minutes of preseason basketball over four games. He looked as one would expect an 18-year-old to look when they first suit up against NBA competition. He was lost at times and unable to impact the game in a meaningful way. His shot didn’t fall, he wasn’t very active on the glass, and he was a remarkable -32 in those 20 minutes played. That’s all OK.
The Pistons fan base has patiently waited to hit on one of their middle-tier first round draft picks, and they’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if Doumbouya will be able to be that guy.
One big question
How many games will Sekou play? If the answer is 45+ games, then you can almost guarantee that Detroit’s season completely fell off the rails by January. If the answer is somewhere in the 15-30 range (or less), then the Pistons are where you should expect them to be - in the thick of the playoff race. These two statements are mutually exclusive and you should expect the latter when it comes to this upcoming season.
Dwane Casey doesn’t play guys unless they serve a meaningful role, that immediately contributes to winning games (just ask Khyri Thomas). Doumbouya’s game is still a season or two away from contributing to the win column. He’s firmly slated behind Blake Griffin, Tony Snell, Markieff Morris, Thon Maker, Svi Mykhailiuk and Christian Wood on the depth chart. So unless Detroit decides to blow up their roster and mainly focus on on-court player development, it’ll be unlikely that he’ll be able to leapfrog any of those players listed above.
Now that doesn’t mean that this season will be a waste for the rookie, he’ll have an entire year to learn the intricacies of the league, and everything that comes with being an NBA player.
The Pistons are focused on creating an environment for him where he can be successful with the goal this season to mold habits that will provide a foundation so that he’ll be able to impact the game in the coming seasons. And while it’d be great if he was able to earn steady minutes immediately, on a team destined for the playoffs, based on what we’ve seen so far, that will not be the case. Be patient, he’ll get there eventually, and when he does, you’ll happily look back to his rookie season, filled with DNP - CDs, and know the Pistons took the correct approach.