The Future is Now: Meet Sekou Doumbouya

With the 15th pick in the NBA draft, the Pistons picked up the youngest player in the entire draft in the Guinean-French player Sekou Doumbouya. He was generally projected as a top 10 pick who slipped to the Pistons, and there are reports that he was #5 overall(!) on the Pistons internal board.

Who is Sekou Doumbouya?

Sekou Doumbouya was born in Conakry, Guinea (West Africa) on December 23, 2000 and moved to France before his second birthday and he has lived in France for the rest of his life. Sekou grew up playing soccer and was not introduced to basketball until he was 12, by the time he was 14 he was already pegged as a high-level prospect and played at the INESP in Paris. At the same age (14) he began playing in the Nationale Masculine 1, which is the third tier in the Fench basketball pyramid and the highest non-professional level league in the country. For any fans of English soccer it would be fairly comparable to playing in the National League in England.

When Sekou was 15 he signed his first professional contract with Pointiers who compete in the LNB Pro B, the second tier in French Basketball. Sekou spent two seasons with Pointiers and was fully put onto the radar of NBA scouts while there. After two seasons at Pointiers he made the move to the top division of French basketball to LNB Pro A side Limoges CSP. He would be there for the next year before the draft.

Due to his age, Sekou has spent most of his professional career as a role-player off the bench and has played either forward position. This past season he struggled in the early going but finished the season strong.

The Good:

Doumbouya is young and full of potential. The youngest player in the draft at 18 years old, had Doumbouya been born even a few weeks later he would not have been eligible for this Summer’s draft. Sekou has the ideal body and athleticism of a modern NBA wing. At 6’9 (and possibly still growing) he has enough size to guard bigger players and has the athleticism and length to stay in front of smaller ones.

On defense Doumbouya really looks to be the total package. As stated above he has the ideal build and athleticism for defense in the NBA but he is more than just tools. The first thing that jumps out when watching him in France is his motor. Sekou is relentless on the defensive end, if he bites on a pump fake he won’t stop and watch his man go unopposed to the hoop, he will turn right around and chase it down. He just keeps coming and rarely lets up, a trait that Dwane Casey is sure to be fond of.

Beyond his motor, Doumbouya often shows solid instincts, he already has a good knack for timing his jumps on blocks even against jump-shooters (although NBA jump shots will surely be much harder to block) and looks to be something of a chase-down artist.

Other than his defense, Doumbouya’s hands stand out in a big way. They are quick and soft, he often doesn’t just swat the ball away when he gets on it, he will catch and control it. This also helps him on the glass.

Doumbouya will likely take some time to adjust to the NBA game and could stand to get a little bit stronger, but on defense he checks just about every box: tenacious, athletic, long, and shows good instincts.

On offense it isn’t as pretty but there is still plenty to like. The biggest area that he is likely to be able to display from the start is his ability to run in transition. Sekou is comfortable grabbing rebounds and going himself and while his passing instincts are not always there he will make the right reads mostly and is a solid finisher in transition. Even when he isn’t the one carrying the ball, however, he is effective. His high motor means that he will always run hard with someone else and his soft hands make him adept at catching passes while at full tilt. His best trait in transition is that he is always going full-tilt to the rim, he isn’t going to pull up for floaters or jumpers, he’s going to the rim to score or get fouled.

Outside of transition it is more about potential. He has the preliminary ball-handling skills that he is comfortable putting it on the floor and operating as a face-up player. He occasionally would show solid post-up moves but as an 18-year-old facing grown men he rarely had such a strength advantage that he chose to post-up instead of face-up. Just like in transition, he doesn’t always show great feel for passing but can clearly be taught the right reads. He isn’t uncomfortable with taking jumpers off the dribble or creating for himself, when he gets in close to the basket in traffic he is already very advanced at knowing how to unfurl his length to lay in otherwise tough shots.

Last season Sekou shot 34% from deep (on low volume) which combined with effective free-throw shooting, solid shot mechanics, and an impressive workout in Dallas to convince most scouts that he is going to at least be a decent shooter and perhaps a really good one.

Watching his game in the top level of French basketball, there is an outline of a guy who is a elite defender who is also a versatile scorer from all over the floor.

Lastly, for all the talk of him being further away from being ready due to how raw and young he is, there is one big area that bodes well for his ability to fit in right away.

In America, players are brought up through the tiers, they maybe start playing on a local rec team when they are kids, then they play in middle school, then high-school, then college, then the NBA (with AAU all throughout the earlier bits). At each step, they are learning to be the best player they can at that level, high-school coaches are teaching them to be the best high-school players they can be, college coaches teaching them to be the best college players they can be. As a result, nearly every guy who gets to the NBA has spent the majority, if not all, of their basketball lives as the superstar. They are used to having the ball in their hands, having their teammates adjust to them, taking the big shots. Sekou on the other hand, has spent his ENTIRE basketball life learning to be the best professional player he can be. He was never being taught moves that could beat the kids at the playground or a high-school team with a 6’2 guy playing center. He was learning how to compete with grown-men who earn a living playing the game.

So while even a guy like Luke Kennard, a remarkably pro-ready prospect, still struggled with fitting together in the starting lineup because he doesn’t have all the little habits to maximize your value when you don’t have the ball, Sekou will arrive having been learning those habits all along. He won’t have to adjust to his initial role at all, in fact, if he earns a rotation spot his rookie season it will likely be a very similar role to the one he had in France last season.

The Bad:

For starters, Sekou is just 18 and very raw, especially on offense. It is difficult even for guys several years older than Sekou to adjust to the NBA and they are not adjusting to a totally new country at the same time. Sekou doesn’t need to add as much weight as many guys as young as him do but he does need some.

Offense is where the real worry here is. He may have shown flashes of offensive potential in France, but there are no garuntees about his ability to improve enough to execute against NBA defenses. His handle is loose enough that attentive defenders will likely poke the ball away easily. His lack of passing instincts mean that it will take longer for him to learn to make good passes which means lots of bad ones while he learns.

His shot release takes a bit to load up and the window to get that shot off is small in the NBA. He’s also built a decent amount of his game so far around being the best athlete on the floor his entire life, which he likely has been, but in the NBA he won’t, he will need to adjust to getting by with things other than his natural gifts.

Simply put, Sekou’s offensive game will likely need to be built from the ground up to be ready at the NBA level, the only hope for instant translation is likely his ability to run in transition and perhaps hit a few open 3s.

On defense there is far less downside. As stated above, he will want to add some more muscle but he’s far from a twig. He’s mostly going to need to adjust to not always being able to shut guys down by simply being more athletic, basically iron out the rough spots. But he has such great natural talent, already shows a high degree of ability, and has such a great reputation as a relentless worker that he is as close to a sure thing on defense as you can get with a prospect.

There is also a little bit of concern about maturity level. He left his first basketball academy for disciplinary reasons, there was a tweet about gay people, some other stuff. Not a huge red flag for such a young guy, but something he will have to prove isn’t going to continue.

Overall his defensive abilities and potential are as there as they can be but may take some time, the offense on the other hand is a total question mark at the NBA level.

Best-case scenario:

Sekou can shoot out the gate and adjusts to the NBA game quickly on defense. He spends his rookie season as a solid 3 and D guy who fills the gaping hole of big-wing defender on the Pistons roster. in the coming seasons he gets more comfortable on the offensive end, slowly taking on more ball-handling duties and creating more for himself all while smoothing out his defensive abilities. By year 4 he is an all-defense player a good shooter and scoring 20ppg. He isn’t a true number 1 on offense but a killer #2 and one of the best defenders alive and the becomes the foundation that the Pistons build a contender around. (yes, he really does have that kind of potential)

Worst-case scenario:

He isn’t even close to ready this season. When he does get on the floor he’s so lost by the speed and strength of the NBA game that no amount of athleticism will save him. There’s stories about him struggling to adapt to the United States, he tweets something stupid again, whispers of him hanging out with Nick Young and Gilbert Arenas. As the seasons go by it becomes clear that his athleticism was over-hyped, he’s a good but not great athlete by NBA standards, and the skill never comes. He tops out as a decent high-energy defender but nothing more, falls to the edge of the league before returning to Europe where he enjoys a long and successful career. For good measure some guy that you wanted them to draft instead becomes a superstar.

Biggest question:

Can he play small forward? In France he swapped around the wing at will, he is mostly projected as a power forward long-term in the NBA but most expect him to at least be able to play either forward spot. If he isn’t able to go at the 3 though, he will have a harder time finding a role and playing time.

The Verdict:

I said before the draft that the Pistons must draft the best player available regardless of position or fit and they clearly got the guy they believed to be the best player. I have real fears about his offense ever translating, I also have a longstanding fear of guys who get extra-hyped because people compare to them to a NBA player that they look like, but there is a ton to like here. On top of that, he has a good chance to bust into the rotation right away as the big-wing defender they desperately need.

This was the right pick, they had him 5(!) overall on their big board. Even if he isn’t ready to play right away. Down the road his combination of natural talent and high motor should at least make him a really good role-player with the potential to be much more.