It’s easy to forget but just a few weeks ago all the love currently being heaped on Sekou Doumbouya was being directed at Luke Kennard for the past three years. The french forward has rightfully grabbed the attention of the fan base, and even turned heads among general NBA watchers.
Absence, in Kennard’s case, has not made the heart grow fonder. Instead, he feels like the forgotten man. As the Pistons enter a rebuild it is important to figure out where Kennard fits in the future of this franchise. Even with the start of the French Revolution, Kennard still stands as a high-value piece of the puzzle.
But Kennard is still No. 2 behind Sekou, right?
It’s a little bit hard to say. Sekou has looked brilliant but the sample size is still tiny. Even if you combine his G-League stats, he’s taken about the same number of 3s as Glenn Robinson and Jon Leuer took before arriving in Detroit so there’s still a very real possibility that his shot falls out from under him at some point. That is OK since he is still super young, but we would feel different about his play if he were shooting 32% from deep instead of 38%.
The early returns on Doumbouya have been excellent, but it might be a bit early to crown him king of the Pistons future over Kennard. If Sekou’s numbers hold up through the end of this season, though, it is probably fair to put him there.
There’s good news.
The Pistons have no reason to pick between them. In fact, even if the Pistons do a total tear-down to build around Sekou Doumbouya, Kennard should still be considered a borderline untouchable part of their future.
The two have yet to play a single minute on the floor together, but once they do, the synergy should be obvious as the ideal yin and yang 1-2 punch of the future.
Why they work so well together
First off, assuming that Sekou’s shot doesn’t Leuer itself, both Doumbouya and Kennard can shoot, and they can score at multiple levels of the floor. I will always have a special place in my heart for the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick and roll, but it will be nice to have your two building blocks both be good shooters this time around.
But once analyzing their games it is easy to see how easily they will be able to mesh together on the floor, and the prospects are mouth-watering.
First off, check out Luke Kennard’s shot chart from this season:
Then compare it with Sekou’s
Sekou obviously has far less information on his, but something should jump out right away.
Sekou’s shot chart look is the type that would make Daryl Morey drool. Sekou is taking open 3s or he is taking his slithery drives into the paint. There is a certain guile and craftiness to his game but there is nothing slow about it. He is a blur in transition, in constant movement off the ball, and rarely takes more than a few dribbles. Per NBA-Stats, 62.2% of his field goals have come without taking a single dribble, which is a huge number. That is the sort of rate that you typically only see in guys who are spot-up specialists or roll-man dunk machines. For reference, he’s right behind Svi Mykhyliuk despite Svi taking twice as many of his shots from deep.
On the flip side, Luke Kennard has taken just 38.7% of his shots without dribbling (which is only slightly lower than last season). Look at his shot chart, Luke is also far more active in the mid-range. For most players this would be a bug, but for Kennard it’s a feature. Particularly just above the free-throw line and in floater areas, Kennard is one of the rare players who is so good a shooter that he gets to take mid-range shots without worry because it still generates efficient offense.
Luke also likes to take his time, take some dribbles, and get to his spots on offense. This is a big part of the reason why Kennard and Blake Griffin have continually failed to click together. Both guys are deliberate with the ball in their hands.
Kennard is still a good off-ball player. He’s a killer spot-up shooter and a heady cutter, but he’s at his best when he can hold the ball more.
The issues Kennard has encountered with Griffin will not be problems playing alongside Sekou. Doumbouya, at this early stage of his career, is clearly more than happy to zip about the court and only get the ball when he is ready to score. This should allow Kennard to play the roll of secondary ball handler. This is doubly good when you consider that in Sekou’s young career, the biggest hole appears to be his playmaking ability. His assist rate of 3.5% ranks below the career mark of Hassan Whiteside. Take that in for a second. With time and experience, Sekou will get more comfortable with more ball handling and playmaking, but for now straightforward attacking appears to be his strength.
So not only do they compliment each other in the areas of the court they score from, but they mesh together as the crafty ball-handler and the slithery attacker.
What about the age difference?
This is the one spot where there could be issues. It’s possible that Sekou continues to beat expectations and will be ready for the big-time much earlier than anyone anticipated. More likely, though, is that by the time Sekou comes fullly into his powers, Kennard will already be approaching 28 and will have wasted some of his best seasons waiting for Sekou, and the rest of the Pistons’ roster, to catch up.
That is a risk but that’s one the Pistons can worry about later. Luke has another year on his rookie deal and then will be a restricted free-agent where they can hopefully re-sign him on a reasonable second contract. If Sekou looks like he is taking too long to come along then worry about Luke then. For now, be optimistic, because the future could be very bright.