Sekou shows Casey the one thing he most wanted the rookie to show: a high-rev motor

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya made a favorable impression on Dwane Casey in his first NBA start for how hard he played from possession to possession
Brian Babineau (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LOS ANGELES – There wasn’t a “wow” moment from Sekou Doumbouya for Dwane Casey in the rookie’s first start. But there was a general impression that portends greater things for his future than any dunk or rebound could convey.

Did Casey see a few rookie mistakes when he watched video of Thursday’s loss to the Clippers?

“A lot of ’em,” Casey said Friday after the Pistons wrapped up practice on UCLA’s campus. “A lot of the guys in the fourth quarter made a lot of mistakes. But one thing they did do – they competed. They competed to win. They played hard every possession. You can live with that with young players as long as they’re the hardest-playing guy on the floor and that’s what he did.”

Casey has pushed back against Doumbouya hype, especially when he’s pressed for comparisons between the 19-year-old and the 2016-17 rookie he coached while with Toronto, Pascal Siakam. Doumbouya and Siakam share enough physical characteristics to make it a valid topic, but Casey always starts his answer with Siakam’s “elite motor” and implies that Doumbouya’s first step to get on a parallel path is to start emulating Siakam’s manic energy level.

He saw that as Doumbouya gave him 10 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes while doing a credible job of defending against the potential MVP, Kawhi Leonard.

“He made a lot of mistakes, but at least the young man was playing hard, competing. That’s what you like to see because that was a big question down in Grand Rapids.”

NBA players are in their own exclusive athletic percentile but even by that standard, Doumbouya stands apart. At 6-foot-9 with a large frame and plenty of capacity to add strength, his suddenness and length give him the tools to be a high-impact player. If he can refine his ballhandling and shooting and instincts – all things that only hard work and experience can address – there is no ceiling for Doumbouya.

But Casey is focused on the next step, not the destination.

“I’m not going to get too high on young players,” he said. “He’s not arrived yet. He still has a long way to go. But the good characteristics are there for all of our young guys. Christian Wood, Sekou, Lou King – all of them. He’s no more above those guys than anyone else. All of them are in the same group.”

The Pistons – without Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris – led much of Thursday’s first half and were within six points at halftime before the third-quarter woes that have dogged them over the first three games of their current six-game road trip resurfaced. With Doumbouya, Wood, King and Bruce Brown out for much of the fourth quarter, the Pistons at one point sliced a 31-point deficit to 10.

“That’s why I could sleep last night,” Casey said. “The third quarter was disconcerting. You can’t be casual and I thought we came out casual.”

Casey said he made the surprising decision to start Doumbouya solely for the tactical purpose of finding the best physical matchup for Leonard. He’s not locked in to rolling with the rookie until Griffin or Morris is able to return, necessarily, but consistently playing hard will warrant more chances.

“That could change tomorrow night,” he said of Doumbouya as a starter. “Situational with all our guys. Could be Bruce one night, could be Tim (Frazier), could be Sekou, could be Christian one night. All of it’s going to be fluid and a lot of it’s going to be predicated on how hard guys are playing, how hard guys are competing. We’re trying to build a culture here, an identity of playing hard. If you’re not doing that, you’re not going to be a part of it.”

So you might have come away from Sekou Doumbouya’s first start with a vision of his offensive rebound and follow dunk, or turning away Leonard at the rim, or streaking for a breakaway dunk off of a turnover. For Dwane Casey, the lasting image was of a hyped rookie playing with the passion of a guy trying to make his way in the world’s best league.

“Was he playing hard every possession? Was he really getting it done? I told him, to stay up here that’s what you’ve got to do – compete hard every possession.”

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