Following a roller-coaster rookie year, Sekou Doumbouya needs to find consistency in 2020-21 to further his development.
Last year’s first-round pick was used sparingly until January when he was inserted into the starting lineup. Sekou flashed immense potential in an initial eight-game stretch with the first unit and then struggled much of the rest of seasons with the occasional encouraging game.
Because the season was unexpectedly shortened, we saw less than 800 minutes of the teen Frenchman.
But the minutes we did see showed enough for us to have a reasonable and encouraging projection of what could be expected from him in 2021. He also provided perhaps the single greatest highlight of the Pistons season, reminding us of his outstanding length and athleticism:
Entering his second season, Sekou is still very much a mystery box on the offensive end of the floor.
He shot poorly from everywhere on the court—making only 46.4% of his shots from two and 28.6% from three. And he was average to below-average in virtually every other statistic. Trying to figure out what Doumbouya’s role at the NBA level takes some degree of guesswork.
Perhaps most instructive is looking at his general role in the rotation. He’s likely to find minutes with the second unit. In those lineups, Derrick Rose is going to shoulder most of the creation responsibilities so Sekou will be able to focus more on his off-ball skills and secondary playmaking.
Since the years of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tobias Harris, the Pistons have been desperate for a wing to utilize advantages created by lead ball-handlers. Rose being so adept at dribble penetration makes this particular role especially important for the bench. When he kicks the ball out to the wing, Sekou needs to be able to either knock down open threes or get to the paint when defenders close out carelessly.
Of course, dribble penetration should not be taken for granted with the dearth of shooting on this year’s roster. When the offense stagnates, Sekou will also need to make himself a viable option cutting behind and across defenders who spend too much time watching the ball. And this is a skill he showed last year.
Watch how he slipped behind Nico Melli when the latter is too focused on the high pick-and-roll:
Against the Golden State Warriors, he did the same from the opposite corner:
On a separate occasion, he cut from higher along the perimeter to fill open space for a crafty drop-off pass and floater:
These are situations where Sekou can leverage his unproven shooting into high-percentage opportunities. He’s able to cut from the perimeter unimpeded in large part because opponents are not worried about his presence from behind the long line. If he proves a threat cutting towards the hoop, it will help open up the paint for his teammates even if he’s missing shots from deep.
It may be frustrating to see the young Doumbouya sitting in the corner for possessions at a time, but until he shows an ability to be a competent creator at the NBA level, playing off the ball is the role that makes the most sense for the Pistons.
Finding a position is most critical on the defensive end. In 2020, shooting and passing is not necessarily restricted by height or weight. Defense, however, is conditioned on it.
Doumbouya is naturally a small or power forward who has the ability to switch positions if his technique develops properly. When he gets low, he has the lateral quickness to stay in front of guards and when he maintains a low base, he has the raw power to be serviceable against centers when needed.
But his most important role will be as a primary wing defender. His raw tools bring a world of potential in that regard, and this role also provides his clearest path to consistent minutes.
With Dwane Casey at the helm, limiting defensive mistakes is going to be critical to staying on the floor. The Pistons head coach is sometimes quick to bench young players making young mistakes, especially when Detroit doesn’t have the ball.
If Sekou works hard and limits those mistakes, he can carve out a regular spot in the rotation. And then he can learn from veterans like Blake Griffin, Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee on how to communicate and play good defense at the highest level.
Only then will Doumbouya be able to unleash his obvious natural abilities and show that he belongs as a part of the Pistons’ future core.
Areas of Improvement
One of the more problematic aspects of Sekou’s performance last season came when he had the ball and drove to the basket.
Finishing at the rim on drives was an issue, and the numbers spell that out clearly. He shot only 54.5% from inside three feet over the season while nearly one-third of his attempts came from that distance. That works out to 45 total attempts throughout the year. It’s also worth noting that Sekou had 27 shots blocked. With many of those occurring in the paint, it tells the story of a disturbing percentage of paint attempts blocked in his rookie year.
Sekou’s finishing issues were particularly noticeable in transition, an area where you might expect his length and athleticism to give him an advantage. Despite those natural gifts, Sekou finished in the sixth percentile of scorers in transition opportunities in 2019-20.
There were two major culprits for the poor efficiencies. When he did get to the rim, Sekou too often avoided contact rather than using his large frame as an advantage. As a result, far too many of his layups were blocked. But when he sought out contact and/or used his body as a shield, he found success:
The second main cause of Doumbouya’s shooting woes was his lack of a plan when driving to the hole. He relied heavily on a Euro step move to get him closer to the rim. And when defenders anticipated his planned path, Sekou did little to adjust his initial plan.
Watch here as Sekou made a good initial decision in attacking a closeout but then just barrels into a defender because he can’t adjust to the next line of defense:
Against the Phoenix Suns, he drives into the middle of three defenders for another charge rather than stop and kick it out to a shooter:
Too often, contact created by Sekou came when he was out of control rather than when the defender was on his hip. Learning when contact is to his advantage will be key to offensive development.
How much progress Sekou makes in using his body around the rim and showing adaptability when his first option is shut off will dictate the growth we will see in his offensive game. Even if a lot of shots aren’t falling, if he’s improving his blocked shot rate and finding cleaner looks, it would be an encouraging step in the right direction.