There was quite the excitement surrounding Sekou Doumbouya when he was suddenly injected into the Detroit Pistons starting lineup a month ago. Doumbouya did his absolute best to send Pistons fans into a craze through his first eight starts as a NBA player, going toe-to-toe with the NBA elite such as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green. Doumbouya passed the test, showing an IQ for the game that you typically don’t see from a rookie, especially a 19-year-old.
In that eight-game stretch, Doumbouya averaged 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 0.9 steals per game. He shot 50 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from deep on three attempts a game, but more importantly, he was playing intelligent, offensive basketball: Cutting off-ball when defenders would fall asleep or play too aggressive off-ball, attacking closeouts with a quick head fake and hard drive to the rim, and getting out on the break for high percentage shots.
No one could have seen Sekou Doumbouya be this good this soon. He was so raw—jumper, handle, effort. Yet he's already excelling in those areas as a Pistons rookie. Looks like a young Siakam. It’s a testament to Sekou’s work ethic to improve so much in such a short amount of time. pic.twitter.com/UdDhupOvOA— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 17, 2020
“The savior has arrived!” takes were all over social media, with national media even taking notice as well.
However, as with all rookies, the wall hits eventually. Every rookie goes through a rough stretch in their first season, and boy oh boy has The Rookie Wall hit Doumbouya hard.
Since exploding for a career-high 24 points on 10-13 shooting against the Boston Celtics, Doumbouya has played (what will hopefully be) the worst basketball of his career. Over the last 13 games, Doumbouya is shooting only 28 percent from the field, 24 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of 37.7 percent - enough to make Stanley Johnson look good.
It’s not only his on-court play, too. Doumbouya has had one DNP-CD, was taken out the starting lineup on a January 22nd game against the Sacramento Kings for being late to shoot-around, and has been publicly called out by head coach Dwane Casey twice.
The most recent call out by Dwane Casey has reverberated throughout the NBA world. When asked whether he was worried about Doumbouya’s recent struggles, Casey said this:
I’m very concerned with Sekou. Im very concerned with the fact he’s a young kid, his outlook, his demeanor, he should be having the most fun of anybody! Have all the girls, and fun, and whatever you wanna do... enjoy life, play basketball, you play in the NBA.
The intensity, the effort has got to come from our young guys, and he’s one of our young guys...He’s getting the opportunity... you’re gonna make mistakes in this league as a young player, but lack of intensity shouldn’t be one of them and lack of passion... Take advantage of the opportunity cause it’s fleeting...
Yeah, not the most encouraging stuff to hear about your 19-year-old “savior.”
Like Casey said, rookies are going to make a ton of mistakes in their first season. Making mistakes on the court is not an issue; you need to make those mistakes to learn and grow as a young player. However, lack of effort and intensity is never something you want to hear about a young player. The level of intensity and effort is one of the few areas in which an NBA rookie can outperform their opponents in.
Over the past few weeks, even more so now with Andre Drummond in Cleveland, fans have been critical of Casey for not playing Doumbouya more. In the face of an obvious rebuild this season for the Pistons, winning isn’t the priority, so doesn’t it make sense to play your rookie more than 23 minutes per game? Although Casey and the front office may not be worried about winning games right now, they aren’t going to allow bad habits to grow and purposely allow a bad product on the floor for a large amount of minutes.
Since January 18th, the Pistons have a net rating of -13,7 with Doumbouya on the floor; the worst on the team of anyone who has played at least 190 minutes over the same 13 game span. Outside of the newcomers from Cleveland, Doumbouya has the worst on/off numbers on the entire roster with a -18.1. Second-worst is two-way player Jordan Bone, a whole 6.1 points ahead.
Doumbouya has been nothing short of awful the past 13 games, and combine that with his apparent lack of effort and passion the product being put on the floor, there’s no reason to expect Casey to play him more than he’s playing now.
As a respected media member told me in the postgame scrum, “If your kid keeps on stealing from the store, are you going to continue to encourage him?”
It is discouraging, though, to hear about effort and passion being an issue, something you never want to hear about a young player.
The rookie is only 28 games into his NBA career, so there’s no need to panic. Every rookie hits a wall, and Doumbouya will eventually fight through it. Although the Detroit Pistons are more worried about the draft lottery than winning games, Casey isn’t going to just hand Doumbouya minutes if he doesn’t deserve it.
That’s how you shut down bad habits and build good ones.