3 goals: Sekou Doumbouya – a season of learning across all fronts for Pistons rookie

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya, who won’t turn 19 until December, is the youngest player drafted to the NBA since eligibility rules were amended in 2006.
NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Sekou Doumbouya. Coming Thursday: Markieff Morris.)

Ed Stefanski, Dwane Casey and the inner circle involved in key decisions for the Pistons got a doozy thrown in their lap on draft night.

Their regard for Sekou Doumbouya was cemented less than two weeks earlier when they watched his dazzling workout in suburban Dallas. But they didn’t spend a lot of time mulling what they might do if he were available with the 15th pick because … well, he wouldn’t be.

Until he was. It was, on the one hand, a very easy call for the Pistons. Organizations usually have to tank to get a talent they view as potentially elite in the draft. By all credible accounts, Doumbouya was a top-10 talent.

But at 18, the youngest player drafted since the NBA amended parameteres in 2006 and eligible for the 2019 draft by a mere nine days, it’s a leap of faith to expect any meaningful contributions from Doumbouya as a rookie.

Among the players available when the Pistons went on the clock were Nickiel Alexander-Walker, a versatile perimeter player who sparkled in Summer League; Goga Bitadze, a big man considered NBA ready who would have filled a hole on the depth chart behind Andre Drummond; and Brandon Clarke, another Summer League star who, at 22 and more than four full years older than Doumbouya, would have plugged in as a key frontcourt reserve.

Drafting Doumbouya, in other words, was the sort of move that shows the Pistons aren’t feeling undue pressure to win in 2019-20 at the expense of the future beyond next season. It doesn’t guarantee they’re right about Doumbouya, but it does reveal an organizational philosophy that starts with owner Tom Gores about building sustainable success and not falling prey to myopia.

What would be a good rookie season for Doumbouya? Casey gives his players a three-item card with their core values to the team before training camp starts. In keeping with that protocol but with a twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Sekou Doumbouya, those are …

MEET MR. SABOURIN – Jordan Sabourin is the Pistons strength and conditioning coach and he will be hands on with Doumbouya. Dwane Casey described Doumbouya as a chunk of clay for him and his coaching staff and the same is true for Sabourin. Doumbouya has a tremendous frame that can handle adding bulk and strength without diminishing the explosion that made him a top-10 prospect in the eyes of most. Pistons assistant coach Sean Sweeney mentioned Doumbouya’s natural strength after watching him in his first practice. The Pistons are about to move into their new Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center in October, complete with the most modern and sophisticated training equipment available. It’s safe to say this will be the most comprehensive protocol of strength and conditioning training Doumbouya has ever undergone. His immense natural physical gifts can be honed to give him significant advantages in strength and athleticism that will allow Doumbouya enormous positional versatility – especially so if his skills are similarly developed.

MEET MR. GRGURICH – On that last point, the Pistons have invested heavily in player development, starting with Casey’s hiring of the acknowledged guru of the craft – 77-year-old Tim Grgurich – plus three young development coaches that take about a minute and a half off after the season before fanning out across the country to work with Pistons personnel in their off-season regimens. The Pistons see Doumbouya as having good shooting touch, but acknowledge he’s not ready to be a consistently good perimeter shooter just yet. It will require technique refinement and, more than that, repetitions. The book on Doumbouya, backed up by what the Pistons saw firsthand before a hamstring injury limited his work in Las Vegas for Summer League, is that he’s an enthusiastic student. Supporting that, he made immediate plans to spend all of his summer in the United States to work with Pistons staffers. Doumbouya’s chances of figuring in Pistons plans for 2019-20 start with having a strong base of work in August and September leading to training camp.

MEET MR. SWEENEY – On size, physical readiness and athleticism, Doumbouya certainly projects to have a chance to make his case for playing time. The most daunting challenge for Doumbouya will be absorbing defensive concepts. Sweeney is Casey’s assistant who serves as de facto defensive coordinator. Because Doumbouya has the size and physical traits to enable him to play both small and power forward, that will complicate his learning curve. There are significant differences in responsibilities for threes and fours in most NBA defenses. Perhaps the Pistons will choose to limit Doumbouya to one position or the other, at least early in the season, to prevent information overload and paralysis by analysis. But eventually, if Casey is to entrust Doumbouya with important minutes, he’s going to want to have utmost faith in his ability to be in the right spot more often than not. Until players can react instinctively, their physical advantages are muted. The Pistons can only unlock Doumbouya’s raw talents once he is comfortable with their schemes.

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