Swing for the fences? Nah, but Doumbouya projects as a home-run pick for Pistons

Sekou Doumbouya
Sekou Doumbouya’s youth, talent and obvious potential adds up to the chance for a transformational talent for the Pistons.
Steve Freeman/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The commonly held belief is that the Pistons swung for the fences in drafting Sekou Doumbouya. And, to be sure, a cursory viewing of Doumbouya’s highlights shows a guy who metaphorically projects to hit a lot of tape-measure home runs.

But swinging for the fences implies a boom-or-bust quality where the chance to bust is roughly equal to the chance to detonate.

And logic – apart from the glowing testimonials to Doumbouya’s future issued by Ed Stefanski and Dwane Casey in the aftermath of Thursday’s tumultuous NBA draft – says the Pistons clearly don’t see it that way.

How do we know this?

Because here’s what Stefanski said three days before drafting Doumbouya: “You could strike out and we can’t strike out. That’s what I keep saying. We could take a swing for the fences and if we have to sit on the bench because we struck out, that’s not going to help our franchise where we are today.”

Stefanski knows the Pistons’ depth chart isn’t groaning with above-average NBA talent at all five positions. If it had been, with little to lose, maybe a swing-for-the-fences mentality would have been employed.

But he also knew the likelihood of landing an instant contributor with the 15th pick last week wasn’t good, either. That’s the nature of the NBA draft. Banking on rookies to come in and help you win games is a suicidal path.

“We’re going to get a good player,” Stefanski said before the draft, “and we’re going to get a player that’s going to help us. Will they crack the rotation next year? Going to be tough.”

So overlay that with Stefanski’s admission that the Pistons weren’t in position to be reckless with their swing at upside and what they did by drafting Doumbouya – the youngest player by a comfortable margin in the 2019 draft, someone born nine days before the cutoff for draft eligibility – was to take the player they thought would be the best of the bunch sometime before his rookie contract is up for an extension four years from now.

Doumbouya has been on the NBA radar for a few years. Two years ago, as a 16-year-old, he helped France to the U18 European championship, averaging 17.8 points and 7.0 rebounds to be named to the all-tournament team against mostly players two years older. Despite his youth, he’s been as thoroughly scouted as someone like Cameron Johnson, picked four spots ahead of Doumbouya – and three months short of five full years older than Doumbouya.

Stefanski and Gregg Polinsky, Pistons personnel director and point man for the draft, scouted Doumbouya in France. They accompanied Casey to Dallas for Doumbouya’s pro day two weeks ago and left feeling they had zero chance to draft him with the 15th pick.

His shot-making ability that day was the revelation, draining 15 3-pointers in a row at one point. If that translates – and given his age and the assumption he’ll have taken tens of thousands more shots under the eye of Pistons coaches before he’s as old as Cameron Johnson, you like the chances – then June 20, 2019 could well be recalled as a transformational night for the franchise.

Here’s what another player who’s had some success in making the jump from France to the NBA had to say about Doumbouya after the Pistons grabbed him at 15: “I think he’s a steal. He’s an unbelievable talent. He loves the game. I think he’s a competitor and he’s made so much progress in such a short time this year that I don’t see any limits for him. It’s going to be up to him to be whatever he wants to be. He’s got all the tools to be an amazing two-way player. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”

That was from Utah’s Rudy Gobert as told to Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. To describe elements of his game, the names of Paul George, Pascal Siakam, Lamar Odom and … gulp, LeBron James have been evoked.

Again, he’s 18. Turns 19 until two days before Christmas, nearly halfway through his rookie season.

You see the way he runs, the suddenness of his dunks, the flashes with the occasional explosive drive and, yeah, it’s easy to see why the Pistons left Doumbouya’s workout under a cloud of melancholy and why they were so giddy when the draft unfolded as it did. Stefanski said last week he knew eight players who wouldn’t be there when the Pistons picked at 15 and, by all indications, Doumbouya was one of them.

That just doesn’t happen at the top of the draft. When the Pistons drafted Luke Kennard two years ago with the 12th pick, Stan Van Gundy let it be known that the draft unfolded exactly as their board projected – meaning the Pistons got their 12th-ranked player with the 12th pick. Usually in the lottery, boards line up within two or three spots for most teams. To get a top-eight talent with the 15th pick?

Stefanski would object to calling it a swing for the fences, but, privately at least, maybe not to calling Sekou Doumbouya a home-run pick for the Pistons.

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