Pistons excited for Doumbouya’s future – even if it won’t be immediate

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya, who doesn’t turn 19 until December, figures to get most of his playing time with the Grand Rapids Drive in his rookie season.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The Pistons fully understood the ramifications of drafting Sekou Doumbouya. You don’t add a player six months from his 19th birthday with the expectation that he’s going to have any immediate impact on winning.

If Pistons fans were banking on a different outcome, the preseason should temper their enthusiasm. Doumbouya played 20 minutes over five games and shot 2 of 9 with three rebounds and one assist.

But the Pistons saw enough in practice and the September scrimmages players organized before training camp opened to validate their draft-night amazement that Doumbouya – widely expected to be a top-10 pick – slipped to them at 15.

“He’s super aggressive and he wants to get better,” said Markieff Morris, who was older when he enrolled at Kansas in 2008 than Doumbouya is today. “He’s a young guy. He can play multiple positions. At 18, he’s going to be scary when he gets like 26, 27 and he’s a grown man.”

The Pistons are conscience of the enormity of Doumbouya’s transition as a teen learning a new language in a foreign land, playing against grown men in a league a few serious leaps above his accustomed level of competition. A month before training camp opened, Dwane Casey was keen to weigh how Doumbouya handled the transition before formulating a plan for how often to assign him to Grand Rapids – where he’d face yet another transition.

A month later, Casey is comfortable enough to know that Doumbouya will become familiar with the freeways between Michigan’s east and west sides.

“I still think he needs to play. His opportunity to play will be at Grand Rapids,” Casey said. “He needs the NBA-style game experience. Time, speed, strength. Even G-League guys will be different than the French League he was in. All the experience at 18 years old is better for him than sitting behind Markieff, sitting behind Thon (Maker), Luke (Kennard), Tony Snell, all the other guys if he’s out there. That’s going to be a better experience. He’ll be back and forth some, but he needs to play. I think that’s going to be a good opportunity for him.”

Doumbouya said Friday it was the off-court adjustment that’s been the most challenging for him, but it’s also what he anticipated. He got a heads-up on that from Evan Fournier, another Frenchman who made the transition to the NBA.

“New language, new country,” he said after Friday’s practice. “Those things are different.” The speed and strength of NBA players, especially the speed, he’s found to be the most challenging on-court adjustment.

In two years, the Pistons plan to have their G League team playing in Detroit and sharing the same training facilities at their new Detroit Pistons Performance Center. If they could warp time, it would be ideal to have Doumbouya in that situation where he could practice with the Pistons in the morning, walk across the hall to go through a shootaround with the G League team, play a game with them that night and return to join the Pistons the next morning.

But the 160-mile distance between Detroit and Grand Rapids won’t be enough to dissuade the Pistons from having Doumbouya make the trip multiple times. Casey doesn’t have a number of G League games in mind, but he expects a liberal dose of Doumbouya in Grand Rapids.

“I’m not sure (of a number), but we’ll have a plan of getting him down, getting him back,” Casey said. “It’s a two-hour drive, so he’ll be in the car a lot going back and forth. Once the games start, the practice days slow down. To get a quality practice in, a quality scrimmage in, is going to be difficult (with the Pistons) for him other than going against coaches. That doesn’t give him the same experience.”

Casey said the Pistons are going to put a “cocoon” around Doumbouya. Player development coaches Bryston Williams and Alex Zampier will alternate in accompanying Doumbouya to Grand Rapids. Team psychotherapist and life coach Dr. Corey Yeager will also be part of Team Doumbouya.

“It’s more than basketball with the young man,” he said. “It’s life skills, handling his business off the floor, so we want to make sure we put a cocoon around him and make sure he’s becoming a professional in the right way when he does go down there.”

The Pistons are keeping it simple for Doumbouya, limiting him to repetitions at small forward. Because the Pistons funnel so much of their offense through Blake Griffin and can plug Morris or Joe Johnson, should he make the final 15-man roster, into a similar role, that’s the way the offense is designed. When the Pistons had to go through practice without either Griffin or Morris earlier this week, Casey had Doumbouya play some power forward.

“He looked like a newborn,” Casey said. “We want to keep him at the three, let him learn that first and then move him to the four. He’s coming along. He’s getting used to the NBA game, the physicality, the speed of the game. He’ll get a lot of minutes in the G League, a lot of time down there. His future’s going to be good.”

It just won’t be immediate.

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