They might have said it in any one of the multiple languages they’ve mastered, but 2019 Pistons draft picks Sekou Doumbouya and Deividas Sirvydis made a statement with their Saturday performances. Roughly translated, it was “Hey, don’t forget about us.”
Troy Weaver’s free-agent signing of Jerami Grant, drafting of the “Core Four” and wheeling and dealing that reclaimed Frank Jackson from the waiver wire, Josh Jackson from near exile and Hamidou Diallo via trade has gotten the bulk of attention, rightly so.
But Doumbouya and Sirvydis – the only two players on the roster who predate the June 2020 arrival of Weaver as general manager – want a piece of the Pistons future, too, and Saturday provided ample justification for their consideration.
For Doumbouya, it was a continuation of a strong recent stretch to punctuate a second season undermined by nagging injuries and two stints in concussion protocol. Over the five games entering Saturday’s 118-104 loss to East-leading Philadelphia, Doumbouya had averaged 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and Saturday was in line with that: 12 points, four rebounds, 5 of 10 shooting. He ran the floor well, went up strong to finish inside and continued to flash an off-the-dribble game, once culminating in a deft set-up for a Mason Plumlee layup.
But it was Sirvydis who opened eyes, getting his extended minutes and earning the chance for more in the season’s final four games.
“He’s great. He can do everything,” rookie Saddiq Bey said of Sirvydis. “He just waited for his opportunity and took advantage. He played hard.”
Sirvydis played the entire second and fourth quarters and wound up leading the Pistons in plus/minus at plus-six. His 24 minutes crushed his previous high of nine and his eight points and six rebounds were also new highs. Sirvydis hit 3 of 6 shots, 2 of 4 from the 3-point arc, and set up Doumbouya for a layup to finish a transition possession.
“That was an awesome feeling,” the 20-year-old native of Lithuania said. “Just got to work hard every day and your chance will come. Today was a good game.”
“It’s good to see him get the opportunity,” Dwane Casey said. “Nobody on our team works as hard as Deividas.”
Sirvydis was the 37th pick in 2019, the Pistons trading up to get a chance to draft him. He spent last summer in Israel when play there resumed from the COVID-19 suspension and the Pistons hoped when they brought him stateside that his 2020-21 experience would consist largely of G League play. But when that didn’t eventuate, it’s been a challenge to keep him engaged. One critical area where Sirvydis has made strides is adding bulk to his 6-foot-8 frame. He appears significantly more substantial than he did when he played for the 2019 Pistons Summer League entry.
“He played over in Europe, played in Israel last year. He’s been around basketball all his life,” Casey said. “He’s one of the better shooters on the team as far as getting his feet set and knocking ’em down. The main thing with him is getting stronger, which he’s done. I’ve told our guys, he’s going to be a player one day. He’s going to be one of those big two/threes who can stretch the floor.”
The Pistons welcomed Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee back to the lineup Saturday after each had missed the past five games and the cost was a team that looked out of sync to start the game. Philadelphia, which won its eighth straight, led 21-9 at the midway point of the first quarter with the Pistons already committing six turnovers.
“That’s on us as an organization,” Casey said. “Those guys coming back, going against one of the top defensive teams in the league, timing is automatically going to be off. We competed after that. First quarter was a track meet and they won.”
Sirvydis and Doumbouya sparked a second unit that whittled a 20-point deficit to eight in the second quarter. The three first-round rookies – Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes – all had a tough first half and all rebounded to finish strong. Bey, who like Grant played the first and third quarters, scored 12 of his 14 points and grabbed five of his seven rebounds in the third quarter.
Stewart was saddled with three quick fouls that limited him to six first-half minutes, but finished with nine points, six rebounds and two blocked shots and hit 2 of 4 from the 3-point arc. Hayes scored all 10 of his points in nine fourth-quarter minutes and also racked up six assists, giving him a streak of 11 straight games of five or more assists. The last Pistons rookie with a streak that long? Joe Dumars, who did it 12 straight times in 1985-86.
All three first-round rookies have put themselves in elite company with various statistical accomplishments over the course of a very challenging entry into the NBA. But nobody’s had a more challenging rookie experience than Sirvydis, who now gets something that he, too, can carry with him into what will be a busy and important summer.
“Yeah, it’s pretty much hard,” Sirvydis said of staying ready to play but rarely getting the chance. “Everybody can say the same, but it’s probably more mentally. Today was kind of different and I feel free. Had a huge improvement. I feel my teammates cheering for me and it helps a lot.”
“The thing that hurt him this year was (not) playing in the G League,” Casey said. “I think the thing that’s going to help him a lot is Summer League and the G League. We’ll watch him grow right in front of us.”