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Sekou Doumbouya’s rookie year in the G League a glimpse at what is still to come

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Doumbouya struggled in the NBA, but he showed some dominating skills on both ends in the G League

Grand Rapids Drive v Texas Legends Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

Yes, I know we’re all excited about all the rookies the Detroit Pistons drafted. But second-year player Sekou Doumbouya is actually younger than rookies Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee. Last year’s lottery pick, still just 19 years old, has given Pistons fans plenty to be excited about — mainly because of his work with the Grand Rapids Drive.

We all were infatuated with Sekou’s stretch of NBA games in first half of January when, as a first-time starter, often matched against the best players in the world. He averaged 14 points on 54.4/41.4/70 shooting splits with 5.3 RPG and 1 SPG. But then he hit the rookie wall, and we all were disappointed with what followed. This is to be expected from a “raw” prospect, however Sekou’s G-League season seems to point to what we can expect to see as he develops.

He’s good from deep

Let’s start with his long gun. You can call an 18- or 19-year-old player “raw,” despite him making these catch-and-shoot triples … though in that case the volume might appear strangely high.

But calling him “raw” becomes problematic when he’s making such a pull-up and off movement treys.

Pull-Ups

Off-the-Ball

Step backs

And how can you even think of calling him that when he’s making such step backs!?

So how we supposed to call him now? Here’s a tip from our expert. Now that’s a bold one, Lamb. But we need to admit that it’s tough to resist your logic and Sekou certainly provided further arguments for seeing him as a special player.

Our French forward turns out to be a competent long distance sniper as regards to both volume and versatility. He made two treys a game on decent clip of 35.6% (and if we omit his last game in G-League, which Sekou played after almost 3 months he spent playing in the NBA, and in which he went 1-of-9 from downtown, the clip was 38.3%). More than half of his treys came from above the break. As we saw, he can make not only catch-and-shoot threes, but also off-movement and off-the-dribble ones. Almost 10% of his threes were unassisted, which is similar to his NBA number (all numbers are from nba.com and gleague.nba.com, except those linked to other sides). It’s not a big figure, Pascal Siakam was making 33.5% of his during recent NBA season, and Kawhi Leonard – a trendsetter among modern wings – was making 37.3% of his (no, I’m not saying that Sekou is next Leonard … though I’m not also saying he can’t be better in his own way either). But Siakam didn’t make a single unassisted triple both in the NBA and G-League until his third season, when he was 24 years old. Leonard made one in his first year. And Sekou started doing them as an 18-year-old kid. In other words, he just might be on trajectory to become a modern wing as regards threes before even being able to legally drink in the US.

He’s great inside

In line with today’s basketball zeitgeist, Sekou can also score efficiently at the rim (he hit 71.1% in the restricted area) and in the paint (51.6%). He can drive to the basket with ease using spin moves, eurosteps or simply his good touch, all of which, in combination with his strength, length and dribble, produce formula so efficient to get buckets around the basket that Sekou needs to miss some shots apparently on purpose, to avoid completely discouraging his opponents from playing him.

Sekou Drives

Missed bunnies

Another big chunk of his points scored near the basket came from post plays. Despite his young age, Sekou knows how to position himself there and he’s able to make strong moves. He has some advanced footwork and, again, nice touch. Maybe he isn’t yet as sharp in mixing all these things as the best one in the business, but as Blake’s teammate he should quickly learn. And the starting point is quite impressive as for a teenage rookie.

Post position

Touch around the rim

The final ingredient of Sekou’s above average efficiency near the basket in his G-League play were cuts. Our young player can read the defense and knows how to take advantage of its holes like a stager. All three of the ability to drive, to play in the post and to cut add another encouraging arguments about Sekou’s basketball future.

Cutting

He has nice mid-range…

Next thing showing Sekou can be special was his mid-range game. In the NBA Sekou was benched for taking some tough mid-range jumper. But we should prepare ourselves for him taking them more in the future. In his G-League season, he showed that he can make them easily.

In this clip, we can see that while his mechanics maybe aren’t pristine, it is very sound and he feels very comfortable with it, and thus the results. As is shown by players like Leonard or Siakam, even in “analytical era,” the mid-range game is still a necessary part of the arsenal for a modern wings. Although Sekou’s volume in G-League needs to be multiplied some (he took only 13 shots in that area in 16 games), his 46.2% efficiency is again pointing to a very promising player.

…and playmaking

Another factor that constitutes a modern wing is his playmaking ability. So how does Sekou looked in this area. Well what do you know? He looked great! As you can see, he can do it all: pass in half court and in transition, from the post and in live dribble.

Again the volume isn’t big, Sekou averaged 1.5 assists. But we need to take into account that he wasn’t used much as ball handler. They didn’t run P&Rs with him handling the ball. Though, with his dribbling skills, it’s something to be expected soon. And then those passing abilities should produce an intriguing facilitator. However, here he’ll need to go a longer route: Siakam averaged 2.6 APG in his rookie year in G-League, and had much better AST/TO ratio – 1.3 – compared to Sekou’s 0.57.

He’s not there yet with FTs and transition

More work is needed, it seems, with Doumbouya’s ability to get to the line. He had a FTr of only .153. In comparison, Siakam had .303 in G-League. In my opinion, which I expressed in our Grand Rapids Weekly pieces during the season, the reason for this underwhelming number, is Sekou’s reluctance to use more of his physicality and his not rare lack of urgency and determination (e.g. he spins off the basket or losses the ball while posting small player).

Lack of determination

Lack of urgency

Since Sekou was very good free-throw shooter in the G-League, making 84.4% of those shots, he needs to fix that problem. And he’s certainly not scared to go to the rim.

Likewise, Sekou needs up his input into transition offense. He has the abilities to contribute to it in numerous ways, namely by leading a one man transition with such grab-and-go raids, by quickly filling the corners to make such spot-up threes, by sprinting to receive an outlet pass and take the ball to the hole, or by creating easy buckets for others just as we saw in some of the previous clips. But his 1.4 fastbreak points statline is too far away from Siakam’s 5.4, and needs to be improved. With his strength, speed and handling abilities it shouldn’t be a problem.

Grab and go

Spot-up threes

In transition

He definitely can defend

As if all these weren’t enough, Sekou topped his promising offensive skillset, that he showed in his 2019-20 G-League campaign, with encouraging signs on defense. After a clumsy start, he turned out to be capable and versatile defender. He can guard playmakers operating from perimeter and bigs on the block.

Overmatched

On-ball defense

Guarding bigs

If needed, he can protect the rim. With his speed, he can be destructive in transition defense. Although he was playing more as a big than a wing, he was able to show that he can play the passing lanes. He still makes some defensive mistakes, but he should be able to eliminate them as he gain more experience.

Rim protection

Transition defense

Playing the passing lanes

Defensive lapses

All this draws a picture of quite complete and competent player – rather than “raw” prospect. Doumbouya did all this being the age of a college freshman and while playing grown professionals in what probably is top-4 (if not better) basketball league on the planet! He can amount into something really special (like foundational-piece-of-contending-team-special) in the current NBA.

And there is one more thing that makes this pretty bright light in the tunnel of Pistons “age of suck” even brighter. Although Sekou showed that he can take over the games both on offense and defense, in Grand Rapids he played as part of a core of four players. So he showed the potential to be able to accommodate to the roles of both a single (super)star player leading his team by himself or a player co-starring with other (super) players. And it is you who can choose which one you want. Let us know in the comments.

Sekou takeover

Defense