How Detroit Pistons’ Sekou Doumbouya is ‘taking steps’ even if he isn’t playing much

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Sekou Doumbouya hasn’t yet emerged as a significant contributor for the Detroit Pistons in the early portion of his second NBA season. His playing time is down from last season, and when he has played, the flashes shown during preseason have been more sporadic. 

There was some concern from fans when Doumbouya, after appearing in Detroit’s first 12 games, sat on the bench during the Pistons’ loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at home last Wednesday. 

But head coach Dwane Casey said there’s no need to worry about the the 20-year-old forward.

“There’s nothing he’s done wrong,” Casey said last Thursday. “He’s worked, the kid is the first one in the gym. Last year this time, we had to make sure we called him to make sure he was coming in early. Now he’s one of the first ones in the gym, last ones to leave. Even this morning after not playing last night, he was upbeat in practice and workouts.” 

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The Pistons’ 3-10 overall record doesn’t quite represent how competitive this team has been. They have been within striking distance in nearly every fourth quarter despite owning  one of the NBA’s hardest schedules. Troy Weaver and Casey want to build a competitive team culture — one that’ll encourage the young players to pick up good habits and battle for their minutes against established veterans. 

Several of the Pistons’ young players are seizing significant roles in the rotation. Saddiq Bey has played at least 13 minutes in 10 of Detroit’s 13 games this season and also has two starts under his belt already. Isaiah Stewart had his first double-double on Saturday and has secured the backup center job. Before his hip injury, Killian Hayes was the starter at point guard. 

Doumbouya, a natural power forward, has two established veterans in front of him in Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant. That, along with Doumbouya’s struggles relative to some of the other young players on the roster, means consistent minutes may be hard to come by until he makes more winning plays. 

Casey said he wants to avoid playing young players just for the sake of it. He wants to build good habits, and not reward mistakes. Griffin, who is embracing a mentoring role on the roster, said there’s more to developing an NBA player than allowing them to make mistakes during live games. 

Doumbouya, who was considered a project when he was drafted 15th overall in the 2020 draft, is averaging 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds in 11.8 minutes while shooting 34% overall. 

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“I know fans are all about tanking, playing the young guys as much as possible, bringing guys along,” Griffin said. “Not giving them too much time, I think, is very important. I don’t think the common fan understands the ins and outs of everything that goes on, from practice to game prep to games to film sessions — I think it’s very important to have those guys, and our coaching staff does a good job of giving guys what they can handle and bringing them along. When the young guys earn minutes, they get their minutes.”

The Pistons do want to give Doumbouya opportunities to prove himself, though. And after his first “DNP” last week, he’s appeared in Detroit’s last two games, both against the Heat. He played 16:30 minutes against Miami on Saturday and logged six points and three rebounds. 

He scored one point in 10 minutes on Monday, missing both of his shot attempts and splitting his lone trip to the line. He made some good plays, standing tall and ceding little room to Precious Achiuwa as the Heat’s rookie big man posted him up at one point. He also missed an open layup and committed a travel during a drive to the rim. 

While Bey and Stewart have had bigger roles in the rotation, Bey has seen his role reduced in his last two games amid some defensive issues. He played 11 minutes Saturday and a season-low three minutes on Tuesday, with Casey giving Doumbouya minutes at small forward. 

On the other hand, Stewart, the Pistons’ third center entering the season, has nabbed all of the backup minutes during the last two games after outplaying sixth-year center Jahlil Okafor. 

Casey has shown that he can be flexible. And it sends the message that if Doumbouya wants to play, he has to show that he can help the Pistons win now. Casey believes his approach behind the scenes will eventually lead to playing time. 

“We have to find ways, whether it’s (playing the) 3 or whether it’s playing zone, whatever we have to do to get him some minutes,” Casey said. “Again, this year is about him playing. But he’s taking steps in the right direction.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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