NEW YORK – Dwane Casey isn’t prophetic so much as experienced. And his experience told him Sekou Doumbouya’s inexperience was going to show itself sooner or later.
He predicted ups and downs for Doumbouya, the youngest player in the NBA, even as he opened his NBA career with a string of impressive outings while being matched up against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kevin Love.
Two weeks after Doumbouya scored 24 points as the Pistons romped to a win at Boston, the world has turned over on the Pistons 19-year-old wunderkind. He’s barely surpassed those 24 points since, scoring 27 in seven games and bottoming out in Wednesday’s 125-115 loss at Brooklyn.
Doumbouya went scoreless without a rebound or an assist in just eight minutes of playing time. But they weren’t an uneventful eight minutes. They were the defining segments of the game – five minutes to start the game in which Brooklyn outscored the Pistons 16-4 and three minutes to start the second half in which the Nets outscored them 12-4.
“Our rookie … (eight) minutes, minus-20,” Casey said. “I don’t know how bad you have to play to get that many. We’ve got to get that fire lit under him a little bit more because he’s lost that zest and that fire he had going against (LeBron) James and the first couple of weeks. We’ll get it back. He’s a young kid and we’ll find it. We’ll get the fire back.”
Casey never ruled out getting Doumbouya – forced into action to start the month when the Pistons were without both Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris – more minutes in the G League and he admitted it might be that time after the loss in Brooklyn, which pushed the Pistons 4½ games behind the Nets for the final playoff berth.
“There’s a chance he may go back to the G League just to get some more playing time, to get his thirst back,” Casey said. “Get the fundamentals back. More practice time because we’re not practicing that much. We’ll look into that as we go along.”
The Pistons are as healthy as they’ve been in a while, missing only Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard among regular rotation players for Wednesday’s game. Tony Snell returned after a three-game absence due to illness. With Snell and Svi Mykhailiuk at small forward and Morris back, the Pistons have enough frontcourt depth again that they don’t have to force feed Doumbouya, especially if they feel it might be stifling his progress or his confidence to meet with the limited success he’s found of late.
Casey, though, downplayed a lack of confidence as a root cause of Doumbouya’s reversal of fortune.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s a lot of things going on that’s being a pro. Being 18, 19 years old … he’s got to grow up. He’s got the talent. It’s there. We’ve got to continue to develop (him), not only as a basketball player but as a young man. There’s a lot of things that he’s got to understand what it means to be a pro.”
Doumbouya’s minutes at power forward could be allocated to Morris and Thon Maker, who didn’t play at Brooklyn. When Doumbouya didn’t re-enter the game in the first half, Casey actually used Christian Wood in tandem with Andre Drummond for a stretch of minutes. Wood played his best road game of the season, scoring 20 points to go with eight rebounds in 21 minutes.
The Pistons got 69 points off their bench, including a team-leading 23 from Reggie Jackson. Jackson played more than 26 minutes, his highest total to date, and Casey used him together with Derrick Rose – who extended his career-best streak of games scoring 20 or more points to 13, finishing with 22 – something he’d like to employ more as Jackson gets stretched out in his return from a 13-week injury absence.
“Using those two together, getting (Jackson’s minutes) up a little bit more and continue to get in game condition, that’ll help,” Casey said.
With their record at 17-31 and no immediate help coming from Griffin or Kennard, the Pistons approach next week’s trade deadline with decisions looming. Casey understands that a prime objective of what remains of the season is development of his young players and no one figures more prominently among that cohort than Doumbouya.
“In this league, it’s unforgiving,” he said. “If you don’t play hard, if you don’t enjoy the grind, the process of getting better, this league will eat you up and spit you out. … He’s the future. Right now we’re force feeding him into playing in a tough position. I’ve had a lot of young players just like him. What he’s got to continue to do is grind, to work, enjoy the process of getting better and being a pro. That will happen.”