Sekou stakes his claim as Pistons kids reward Casey’s trust in win over Knicks
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Sekou Doumbouya has been a little bit of a forgotten man so far for a Pistons team that drafted four players, traded for four more and added another four in free agency. But he reminded Pistons fans in Sunday’s second preseason game that he remains a vital part of their future, too.
Doumbouya, 10 days from his 20th birthday and now only the third-youngest Pistons player after playing all of his rookie season as the NBA’s youngest, scored 23 points in a variety of ways while hitting 8 of 11 shots in just 18 minutes. He was on the floor in the fourth quarter in a lineup that included the two other 19-year-olds – Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart – plus 21-year-old Saddiq Bey. When Hayes sat, Dwane Casey let the fourth rookie draft pick, Saben Lee, finish the game at point guard.
The kids closed it out against Knicks starters and top-of-the-rotation players, too, as the 99-91 win evened the preseason record at 1-1.
“Sekou was unbelievable tonight,” Blake Griffin said. “I was so proud of him. He came in and played exactly like he knows how to play. He worked hard off the ball, played defense – these guys are the future of this franchise.”
Doumbouya scored three of his baskets on hard cuts, knocked down 2 of 4 from the 3-point arc, opened his night with a crafty drive and finish and made 5 of 7 free throws. He ran the floor, rebounded (five) and played solid defense against the hard-to-handle Julius Randle. His block of 7-footer Mitchell Robinson at the rim was an eye-opener.
“Every time I step on the floor, I’ve got to bring the energy,” Doumbouya said. “Whether we’re up or down. I came in and tried to help the team – that’s my job, to come off the bench, lock in and be ready to help the team.”
All in all, it was a most impressive outing for a player who exuded confidence that the work he put in over the off-season – acknowledged by Casey, who laced his comments during Doumbouya’s rookie year with admonitions for the French transplant to improve his focus and conditioning – would be evident for all to see in the 2020-21 season.
“Sekou came in and gave us a big boost off the bench,” Casey said. “The intensity defensively that he gave us – guarding Randle is not an easy chore. I thought he did a decent job, but that energy – running the floor, cutting away the basketball, not depending on spotting up all the time.”
The Pistons’ other French teen, Hayes, bounced back nicely from his seven-turnover debut, committing just one in a game-high 25 minutes. Hayes finished with six points, five rebounds and four assists – he could have doubled that with a little better luck and finishing from teammates – with shaky shooting (2 of 11, 1 of 6 from the 3-point arc) the only blemish. Hayes came back out to the court minutes after the game to work on his shooting.
“Defense and not turning the ball over – that’s growth,” Casey said of Hayes’ bounce-back game. “That’s what we’re looking for more so than points. The shooting is going to come as long as we take the right shots. It was important the way he came in and not turn the ball over. He handled the blitzes much better tonight and moved the ball. New York is a good defensive team – typical Tom Thibodeau team. And I thought he handled the blitzes and aggression pretty well tonight.”
Casey again played a 12-man rotation and then expanded beyond that in the fourth quarter. In all, 16 players got in the game with Anthony Lamb, an undrafted rookie from Vermont, and Louis King, in his second year on a two-way contract, finishing the game.
“I have a different philosophy than a lot of coaches,” Casey said of rolling with all the youth down the stretch. “I think this is where you’ve got to see. It’s good for young guys to see what you have, to give those kids an opportunity. I thought that was what exhibitions are for. You want to see the style, to see if the guys can play, the intensity, the hard play. I thought Saben Lee came in and handled the blitz against the starters. He did a good job of that.”
The Pistons will wrap up preseason with games in Washington on Thursday and Saturday, then open the regular season Dec. 23 at Minnesota. Casey has his work cut out for him to figure out which lineup combinations are likely to be the most efficient and to whittle the rotation down to a manageable number in the days ahead. But Sunday counted as a day when a few things, at least, came into focus.
“We just played a better brand of basketball tonight,” Grififn said. “I’m really proud of our guys. This is our eighth straight day. We’ve had two-a-days. Some of the younger guys have been in for 16 straight days. I’m just proud of how we came out. Everybody was tired and we did exactly what we needed to do. We’ll take this win and move on because of how we got it.”