2020-21 Rewind: Doumbouya goes into summer with a bounce from strong finish to Pistons season
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Sekou Doumbouya wasn’t a young player only by NBA standards when he arrived as a first-round pick from France. He was a young player by Big Ten standards – and he still is. In fact, while Doumbouya was only the third-youngest player on the Pistons roster in 2020-21 – 19-year-old rookies Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart were younger – he would have been the second-youngest player on Michigan State’s roster and the fourth-youngest on Michigan’s.
That’s a handy little perspective guide when you hear Dwane Casey come back to the youth of the Pistons as their biggest hurdle on many nights after a confluence of youth-driven slip-ups contributed to a setback. Doumbouya’s youth is compounded by his relative inexperience as a basketball player, picking up the sport relatively late but flourishing anyway due to his immense physical abilities.
“I was taught that when you’re tired of being patient, then you’ve got to be patient some more,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said in March when asked about Doumbouya’s up-and-down second season. “Definitely being patient with him as he continues to develop. I’ve seen tremendous growth in his work ethic and his attitude. He has a great spirit about him.”
Here’s a look at Doumbouya’s 2020-21 season:
PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward, 20 years old, 2 NBA seasons
2020-21 STATS: 5.1 points, 2.6 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game
STATUS: Doumbouya has two years remaining on his first-round rookie deal
A LOOK BACK: Doumbouya was born in the West African nation of Guinea but moved to France as an infant. He played soccer long before basketball, first dabbling in the sport when he was 12. Within two years, he’d shown enough promise to catch the eye of scouts and be put in the pipeline to become part of the French national team. By 15, Doumbouya was playing professionally and put himself on the radar of NBA scouts. As a 17-year-old, Doumbouya was playing for Limoges in France’s top pro division and was being eyed as a potential first-round choice in the 2019 NBA draft. Though that season was interrupted by a hand injury that cost him several weeks, Doumbouya returned in time to finish what would be his only season in France’s top league with a 34-point, nine-rebound outing that solidified his status as a first-round pick. In fact, Doumbouya was widely expected to be a top-10 pick in 2019 even though he was only eligible for the draft by eight days given the fact his 19th birthday came on Dec. 23, 2019 to qualify for that year’s draft. Doumbouya went 15th to the Pistons. When a run of injuries created a need to play him ahead of schedule, Doumbouya put together an eye-opening two-week stretch that saw him score in double figures seven times in eight games. He averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 54 percent overall and 41 percent from the 3-point line. Then his production nosedived, scoring in double figures once in the season’s final 24 games.
THE SEASON THAT WAS: Doumbouya was cited by Dwane Casey for making significant gains in strength and conditioning during the summer of 2020 despite the limitations caused by COVID-19 protocols. Still just 19 to start the season, Doumbouya had an impressive training camp. But with Blake Griffin still on the roster and Jerami Grant added as the marquee free-agent signing, Doumbouya was crowded out at power forward and then dinged by nagging injuries, including two stints in concussion protocol. When he returned, Griffin had moved on via buyout but Grant moved to power forward – Doumbouya’s natural position – and rookie Saddiq Bey had solidified his standing in the rotation. When the Pistons began to rest veterans over the final few weeks to ensure they’d go into the off-season healthy, Doumbouya put together his best basketball since that heady two-week run in January 2020. He averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 46 percent overall over the final eight games. Three-point shooting was another issue and dragged down his scoring average and overall percentage as Doumbouya hit just 4 of 25 over that span and 22.6 percent for the year.
A LOOK AHEAD: Doumbouya is at his best in transition and as a cutter in the half court. Casey, in fact, calls him an elite cutter. To be effective in those areas – consistently running the floor, consistently cutting to open areas – requires superb conditioning levels. Doumbouya possesses tremendous natural strength but as he physically matures and becomes more a devotee of strength training, he should be able to turn that to even greater advantage. It’s imperative that Doumbouya gain consistency as a 3-point shooter. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with his shot except inconsistency in his mechanics. No one on an exceptionally young Pistons roster was affected more by the lack of a G League presence this season. When the Pistons launch their new G League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, on the campus of Wayne State University later this year, Doumbouya stands to be one of its prime beneficiaries. Grant and Bey line up as the prospective starting forwards, but Doumbouya could be in line for minutes behind either one or both with a strong off-season in an aggressive Pistons player-development program bolstered by last week’s hiring of ex-Michigan coach John Beilein.
MONEY QUOTE: “I thought he came into camp lean and mean. I don’t know what his weight is, body fat is, but just make sure you get lean and mean and stay lean and mean. Just the greatest conditioning he can possibly get in where he can do what he does best, which is run the floor. Defensively, he’s been solid. Sekou is a very strong young man. He bodies up. The key word with him is consistency – getting consistent minutes and being consistent in those situations.” – Dwane Casey on Sekou Doumbouya