‘He’s changing things around here’ – Pistons fresh ‘Prince’ Sekou stirs things up
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DETROIT – While fans go back and forth on social media seeking the perfect nickname to capture the essence of Sekou Doumbouya, within the Pistons locker room the issue is settled.
“That’s ‘The Prince,’ ” Markieff Morris said, cocking his head in the direction of Doumbouya to his right. “You’ll see. In about five years, he’s going to have Detroit on his back. I promise you that.”
“That boy gets buckets in his sleep,” said the player whose locker was wedged between Morris and Doumbouya’s, Tony Snell.
Whatever your expectations for Doumbouya’s first eight starts, the 19-year-old taken with the 15th pick last June has exceeded them. Over those eight games he’s averaging 14.0 points and 5.3 rebounds and shooting efficiently – 54 percent overall and 41 percent from the 3-point arc.
Not bad considering his first NBA start – his first meaningful minutes, really, after mop-up duty spanning nine games and 25 minutes – came two weeks ago. He’s guarded Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Draymond Green and, at Boston, Jaylen Brown and hasn’t blinked once.
“Good two weeks,” Doumbouya said after scoring 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting in Wednesday’s 116-103 win at Boston. “Right now, I’ve got to continue with that. Keep grinding and work every day.”
The NBA’s youngest player – he was also the G League’s youngest, but he’s likely seen the last of Grand Rapids – has displayed surprising poise and aptitude for some of the game’s more subtle aspects. He ran the floor for two easy baskets and two free throws in the win at Boston and broke up a Celtics fast break by running hard the other way.
“He’s learning,” Dwane Casey said. “The nuances and the little things, the running of the floor. It’s amazing what happens when you just run the floor both ways. Good things happen. If you jog or get in a home-run trot, then bad things will happen. He’s picking that up pretty good. He’s probably one of our best cutters as far as reading situations and knowing when to cut, how to cut, catching a guy asleep. He’s also knocking down his threes, so he’s coming along.”
Perhaps every bit as critically for where the future might take Doumbouya is the impression he’s made on teammates beyond the box score. He’s won them over for his personality, his work ethic and his fearlessness.
“I’m just surprised at the way he’s not scared of matchups,” Derrick Rose said. “LeBron, Kawhi, Paul George, Draymond, K-Love. Person after person, but he doesn’t care. That’s what this league is about – no boys allowed.”
“He’s a great kid,” Morris said. “He wants to learn. He’s going to go hard. One thing for sure – he’s not scared. He doesn’t really know what the NBA is, but he’s going to compete every night. He carries himself like an older guy. As a vet, been in the league for a couple of years, you want to see that from a rookie. That’s my guy.”
Bruce Brown met Doumbouya in Las Vegas last July when they teamed up at Summer League and the two became fast friends, reveling in verbal jousting with each other. Brown’s lob pass to Doumbouya behind the Boston defense was one of the night’s highlights.
“He’s a great player. He works hard at his craft,” Brown said. “He tries to get better every day and he believes in himself – great confidence in himself. I know Sekou’s game. I’ve been with him all summer. We’re good friends. I know he likes to cut, so I try to look for him every time.”
The good vibes Doumbouya’s teammates get from him are reciprocated and the rookie, who didn’t turn 19 until Dec. 23, says his early success starts with feeling at home with the Pistons.
“I feel like every player – even if you’re not a rookie – it’s important to be comfortable in your team,” Doumbouya said. “Everybody likes you, like what you do, like your spirit, you’re going to be comfortable. You’re going to be free to play your game. That’s what I try to do – work every day, be positive with everybody, and that works.”
So far, it’s worked better – and faster – than even the wildest expectations for a player the Pistons fully expected would do the vast majority of his work in G League games and Pistons practices this season. But injuries – most prominently to Blake Griffin and Morris at his position but up and down the roster, as well – created the opportunity and Doumbouya is running with it.
You’d excuse him if his head were swimming, but Doumbouya is trying his best to stay in the moment and not get ahead of himself.
“I feel like every day is simple, no more,” he said. “Just opportunity. Got to take ’em and play, don’t try to do too much. Play the right way and that’s it.”
The Pistons got strong reports on Doumbouya’s character before they drafted him last year, but there are always things you can’t know about a player until you have him – especially one so young with such limited exposure to basketball at the highest levels. But so far, Doumbouya has been everything they hoped he’d be and remains level-headed despite the whirlwind of his last year – and especially his last two weeks.
“I don’t want to overreact,” Casey said, “but I like what his future holds.”
What’s not to like? Amid a season filled with injury and misfortune, Doumbouya has given the Pistons a shining glimmer of hope for what comes next.
“Prince over there,” Morris grinned, “he’s been doing a great job as a starter and he’s got a great future. He’s bringing the energy. He’s changing things around here.”