Following this year’s draft, it appeared that Detroit had finally turned their eyes to the future and embraced a rebuild. Now that the dust has settled following the first 24 hours of free agency, it’s clear that was never going to be the case.
Detroit has found themselves in a very familiar situation - the team is not good, but not bad enough to land a top-five pick without a little lottery luck. They also acquired veteran players who will see significant minutes over their young core. Detroit’s motto was, and still is “if everything goes right maybe we can be the eighth seed.”
One of the most promising aspects following the draft was that Detroit had possibly found their point guard of the future in Killian Hayes, and he just happens to be extremely close with fellow countryman and forward of the future Sekou Doumbouya. Now that the Pistons have signed Jerami Grant to a three-year $60M deal, and with Blake Griffin seemingly staying put (for now), you have to wonder what that means for Doumbouya moving forward.
Grant is obviously a better player than Doumbouya right now. With Blake still here, it’s a given that he’ll be named the starting small forward when the season tips off in a month. So that French Connection the fanbase was excited to see will likely have scattered minutes on the floor together off the bench for most of the season.
Grant specifically noted that he wanted to go to Detroit because they offered him a bigger role in the offense, a role one would presume Doumbouya was being penciled into just 48 hours ago. Sekou had an up and (mostly) down first season in Detroit, but he showed the skills to be an impact player in the league - he just needs more time on the floor to put it all together.
Doumbouya had a promising stretch of games when he first started notching significant minutes. In his first eight games where he played more than 10 minutes per game, he averaged 14 points, 5 boards, and shot 54% from the floor and 41% from three. He quickly tailed off following that initial flurry, but that’s to be expected from a 19-year-old rookie.
With the team constructed as is, it’s hard to imagine Doumbouya finding the space needed to grow in Detroit’s clogged front court.
So what’s the strategy now? Will Dwane Casey allow Doumbouya to figure it out on the floor for 25+ minutes per game? Or will he tap his new $20 million dollar man on the shoulder, as soon as Sekou gets lost on defense or misses a couple of makeable buckets? All (dollar) signs point to the latter.
If the game plan is, Sekou will have to earn his minutes by outperforming seasoned vets, he’ll likely find himself in a similar situation to last year. He didn’t get a real opportunity to play until game 35, once Detroit realized they were out of the playoff race. It appears that Gores, Weaver, and Casey are content in shelving Doumbouya until he emphatically forces their hand via his on court game, or until it’s clear that the Pistons have the juice to make it into the postseason.