(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)
Played by the ageless Paul Rudd, the character Brian Fontana has a memorable scene in Anchorman where he yells at a camera shy panda. I’ve always wanted to mention Paul Rudd in an article and use the phrase “camera shy panda.” Two birds with one stone, I guess. But why do I bring him up?
I had Sekou Doumbouya 8th on my Big Board. I thought Detroit had landed a gem when he slipped just outside of the lottery to the 15th pick. Doumbouya – a 6-foot-9 French gazelle wearing basketball clothes – played solid rookie ball during his first month of consistent playing time. Then, he fell off.
Fontana yelled “Hey, you’re making me look stupid!” to the panda. I felt similar with Sekou for moments. The future is bright for Sekou but he must continue to play to his strengths while working on those weaknesses. Let’s begin with what he did well.
Flashing Defensive Potential
Sekou averaged 3.4 minutes per game during his first seven contests. Then, almost overnight, he was thrusted into a starting role and averaged 23.5 nightly minutes. For being swooped from the G-League into an NBA starting position, Doumbouya performed exactly how you think he would.
Still, he showed everyone his defensive upside. Doumbouya often caught himself switched onto smaller, quicker players. Despite these mismatches he proved he could use his length to cause havoc. When Doumbouya stays grounded, keeps his hands high and shuffles his feet, his athleticism takes care of everything else.
Even when Sekou loses a step to speedier guys, he has the tools to clean up his mistakes. Conversely, when matched up against taller players like Danilo Gallinari, Doumbouya showed he can initiate physicality before altering the shot.
Interestingly, both his steal and block percentages were above his positional average during Sekou’s first month of logging meaningful NBA minutes. Courtesy of Cleaning the Glass, check out his steal percentage when he becomes a starter after January 1st.
His block percentage underwent a similar trend although its peaks and valleys do not appear as drastic.
The positive: Sekou has displayed an ability to be an impact defender on the pro level. The concerning: rookies are supposed to undergo an opposite trend, right? Considering Sekou was literally the youngest player in the League this year, he gets a pass and deservedly so. But, what else did he do well?
Craftiness, Cutting and Cunning
I was surprised to see Doumbouya sneak little moments of craftiness into his game. Actually, I was so surprised that I dug up my old scouting report on him and felt foolish that I forgot I already knew about his slyness.
Doumbouya is smarter than what he gets credit for. This year he was used on cuts for about 12 percent of his plays. Expect this to change next season. Not only will Detroit continue to cash in on his timeliness on cuts but, they could also use him in the pick and roll as a diver.
He often found a way to sneak in behind the defense. Catching other teams napping is a skill and Sekou earned easy points because of it. Additionally, Doumbouya showed that he is skilled elsewhere. There were times where he flashed a bag of tricks that included head fakes to attack closeouts, spin moves/up-and-unders, and nimble eurostep finishes. All are included below
When left open, Sekou can show off his shooting stroke. There are times where I can’t help but project his career to mimic that of the much improved 3-point sniper Jerami Grant. When guarded closely and having to shoot over NBA length, however, Sekou can struggle.
According to NBA.com, he shot 36.2 percent when “wide open.” Yet, when his shots were listed merely as “open” (defender within 4-6 feet) then his percentage plummeted to 18.4 percent. Ew. Check out some evidence for yourself.
Oncoming defenders seem to rattle Doumbouya a bit. A forward jumper when he shoots, he might be concerned about landing in a spot where a closing defender could be. He releases the ball in front of his head and gets plenty of arc, suggesting he may have compensated too much against premier wingspans.
Left Hand Finishes & Turnovers
I harped a bit on his nonexistent left hand during my scouting process, so I won’t dwell on it too much. Doumbouya struggled when driving left and that’s partly because he is not overly skilled with his non-dominant hand. Some of the misses below are ugly and it’s a risk to call anything “ugly” in today’s #cancelculture so that’s saying something.
Working on left hand finishes is not too difficult. Adjusting to the pace of the game can be, however. Sekou racked up an odd amount of traveling calls for a professional hooper. This suggests that his mind is moving too fast for his body, also known as playing catch up. His handle needs some work as well.
Doumbouya is still a youngster. He has tons of time to develop his ball handling skills and catch up to the fast pace NBA game. What else should he work on this offseason?
Offseason To-Do List
Pistons fans probably did not enjoy watching Doumbouya cool off after his hot start but that is the reality of being a rookie. Regardless, they’ll be able to enjoy Sekou’s growth over the next couple of seasons.
Firstly, he must work on shooting comfortably over elite NBA length. This could come with more reps against pro players. Also, do not be shocked if some shooting coach persuades Doumbouya to tighten up his release to make it quicker. Doing so could see his shot lose some arc, and that would be okay.
He must also progress his dribbling skills. Sometimes the ball bounces out of his hands uncontrollably, other times his head is down and he dribbles into waiting defenders. This is very fixable, however.
BONUS – What Are The Experts Saying?
I checked in with Brady Fred of SB Nation. Was I drawn in by him having two first names? Or was it his Pistons knowledge? A little bit of both. When asked to comment on Sekou’s first season, this is how he responded:
On his first NBA action:
“Sekou definitely saw his season go from 0 to 100 early on. He played well in the G League – certainly too good to stay down there – and once he got his opportunity to join the Pistons’ rotation he was surprisingly effective early. He averaged 14 points and 5 rebounds a night over his first 8 starts, going up against some really good opponents along the way. Definitely not something anybody of right mind expected.”
On his rookie wall:
“But, once February hit, you could tell he had hit a wall. His energy just wasn’t the same. He wasn’t getting the shots and minutes, his body language matched. He was kid who was struggling. Sekou only played 36 games during his last European season and this all started happening once he got past that mark this year.”
On how Detroit handled his role:
“I think his role was a little odd and, honestly, I’m not sure the staff had really planned a true, dedicated role for him. He was stuck in the corners as a spot-up guy, which is a role he can fill in stretches. Overall, though, you want him to stay engaged, and standing in the corner waiting for a kick out wasn’t going to do that. That’s not an excuse for his up-and-down play, it’s simply a fact.”
“He did about what I expected he would overall. I knew he wasn’t close to being ready to start in the NBA yet, and he proved that… but his highs were really encouraging. I think he’s got to get stronger, he’s got to tighten up his handle, and he’s got to commit to being a better defender. There’s no reason he can’t be their starting 3 if he’s able to hit open shots consistently and defend at a respectable level – with his size and athleticism, he should be able to eventually handle both small and power forwards on that end.”
Aaron Kellerstrass of Fansided had something to add as well!
“He didn’t do much well to be honest. He flashed some potential early but then fell off. I liked his confidence, especially defensively. He needs to work on everything but especially his feel for the game. He’s out of position a lot and you can see him thinking things through instead of just reacting. His ball handling needs a lot of work, as he was relegated to standing in the corner mostly because he can’t create his own shot.