Exit Interview: The education of Sekou Doumbouya continues

Detroit Bad Boys

The ingredients are there for Sekou Doumbouya.

Drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 2019 just six years after he began playing basketball, Doumbouya’s career has been up and down through two seasons. When you look at the physical profile and the potential skill set, it’s easy to dream about his potential.

But, roughly 150 games into his career, I think it’s safe to forget the comparisons to Pascal Siakam (lol) or Giannis Antetokounmpo (LOL) and focus more on the Sekou of today. The biggest thing for the Pistons is figuring out who HE is.

The Good

Here’s the thing, there wasn’t a lot of good this season.

Statistically, Doumbouya’s sophomore season was a carbon copy of his rookie year. He showed flashes, but there’s no one thing he did particularly well. He’s at his best when he can get out on the break and run — one of the few instances where his athleticism really shines — but the Pistons played at one of the slowest paces in the NBA.

He is, however, better with the starters than he is off the bench. His role has always been inconsistent as a reserve, but as a starter over the final month of the season, he looked more comfortable and his play improved.

Starting six of the final seven games, he averaged 11.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists on .457/.150/.688 shooting, easily his best stretch of the season. Those shooting numbers would have been even better if not for a pathetic 3-for-20 showing from downtown.

When he’s surrounded by playmakers who can get him the ball in good spots, Sekou’s ability as a cutter makes him really valuable off the ball. He gets open, too, he just isn’t a consistent enough shooter to make defenses pay at this point.

The good games are really good though. While Hamidou Diallo put together his best game against the Hornets in May, Sekou played one of his best games that night at LCA:

That’s the total package for him. He’s getting to his spots near the basket, using touch around the rim. He’s hitting jumpers, he’s getting out on the break. That’s the good version of Doumbouya — we just don’t see it much at all right now.

Part of that is his role. Part of that is his current skillset. Part of that is his night-to-night effort. There are a lot of nice pieces here, but it’s a puzzle that is far from complete.

The Bad

No one on this team was hurt more by the pandemic than Doumbouya. Coming off a wacky, pandemic-shortened rookie season, the lack of a traditional offseason really took a toll on his development.

He was a 19- and 20-year-old adjusting to not only the best basketball league in the world but also to a new country. The pandemic threw all of that extra adjustment time out the window.

Sekou needed time with his coaches. He needed individual work. More so, he needed to be on the court competing with NBA-caliber players. Those high-intensity, game-like reps in the summer are what eventually slows the game down for young guys.

This year, it was apparent that the game was still too fast for Doumbouya. As much as you wanted to see him on the court during the #FadeForCade, he just wasn’t ready off the bat.

That, more than anything, can be attributed to his lack of a traditional year 1 to year 2 offseason. It was an unfortunate redux of his rookie season because he didn’t look much different.

Thus far in his career, Sekou has taken about 60% of his shots from inside the arc, and the other 40% from downtown. Now, that makes sense in today’s NBA, but just because it makes sense in the abstract doesn’t mean it makes sense Sekou.

Until Doumbouya shows that he is even remotely capable of hitting shots outside — say, a full season, or even like two months, where he hits around 33% from deep — that number should probably be more of an 80/20 or 70/30 split. I know, I know, when Dwane Casey was in Toronto, he let Siakam miss a million triples when he was young, and that ended up paying off a few years later.

But that might not be the right move for Sekou.

Casey must find better ways to utilize him. Too often, Sekou just runs up court, darts to the near corner and waits for the ball. He hovers around the three-point line before settling for a bail-out shot at the end of the shot clock or missed threes. That’s it.

He needs to be put in positions where he isn’t just a jump shooter. He needs to be closer to the rim, in places where he can get easy baskets and utilize his length and athleticism. He needs to be on the break, scoring on the run. All of that will be easier next season with (likely) Cade Cunningham in the fold.

His added playmaking and shot-making will create space for everyone — Sekou included.

But beyond shooting, defending, rebounding, and passing, Sekou needs to sharpen up his body. He’s listed at 230 pounds, but he really doesn’t use that to make space for himself. His handle needs to get a lot better. Too often, he’s stymied at the point of attack because he doesn’t have much in his arsenal. The best version of Sekou is one who can step out and hit a three but is better off bullying his way past smaller forwards to get near the basket.

Right now, he gets close enough to where he can back down and get a shot up, but he’s not getting to the rim. Once he captures that balance of body control and basketball skill, his athleticism will shine in the half-court, and he won’t be relegated to spacing the floor.

The Pistons were bad with him on the floor both offensively and defensively. They were slightly less bad with him off the court. Sekou wasn’t a problem, but he was definitely not a solution, either.

Does He Stay Or Does He Go?

That’s a great question.

The Pistons made a mistake not sending Doumbouya (and the Grand Rapids Drive) into the G League bubble last season. From Feb. 10 to March 6, when the Bubble was going, Sekou played 14 minutes a night over 10 games.

Detroit could have survived while he played in the Bubble.

Doumbouya is probably destined to be the star of the new Motor City Cruise this season. With Cade in the fray, I’m not sure where there’s much playing time for Sekou with him, Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and likely another veteran in the fold.

I think he’s certainly worth bringing back, but next season is a big one for him. He needs to show tangible improvement. It’s not Casey’s fault he doesn’t defend or dribble. It’s not his teammates’ fault he doesn’t make his shots.

He just needs to get better at basketball, period.

And hey, when the draft rolls around if the Pistons are able to leverage Sekou and a second-round pick for another first-round selection in the low teens … I think you consider it. The likes of Kai Jones, Jaden Springer, James Bouknight or Usman Garuba are probably worth it.

The story of Sekou Doumbouya is far from over, but until we see more, it’s hard to imagine he’ll reach the potential we all dreamed of when he arrived in Detroit.

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