Pistons coach Dwane Casey wants struggling rookie Sekou Doumbouya to 'have fun'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — About a month ago, Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya was the toast of the town. For those casual fans who didn’t know him, they got an impromptu introduction to the first-round pick with his iconic dunk over the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson.

After spending most of his rookie season in the G-League with the Grand Rapids Drive, Doumbouya was thrust into the limelight within the next week, with a showcase game against the Boston Celtics, with a career-high 24 points.

Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya (45) is averaging 6.9 points in 28 games as a rookie.

He’s struggled since. Doumbouya, at 19, is the youngest player in the NBA and sometimes that spotlight suits young players; sometimes, it starts to melt the unfinished veneer of unproven players.

Pistons coach Dwane Casey has warned against putting too much expectation on Doumbouya too soon. He sounded the alarm again after Monday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

“I’m very concerned with Sekou and the fact that he’s a young kid, his outlook, his demeanor,” Casey said. “He should be having the most fun of anybody; have all the girls and fun and whatever you want to do.

“Enjoy life; play basketball. You’re playing in the NBA — have fun.”

Casey noticed that Doumbouya doesn’t have the same joie de vivre that he had during his hot streak. Doumbouya, who is from Guinea and played professionally in France, hasn’t had the same bounce in his step and has seemed to have an epiphany that the NBA means “No Boys Allowed” as much as anything.

The European style doesn’t always translate immediately to the NBA and there’s a certain level of fire and brimstone that any good player has to have to endure the day-to-day physical and emotional challenge in playing in the world’s best league.

For Doumbouya, it’s been an adjustment.

“That’s the thing that bothers me. The intensity, the effort has got to come from our young guys and he’s one of the young guys,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen that in the last couple of weeks. He’s getting the opportunity so far.

“You’re going to make mistakes in this league as a young player, but lack of intensity shouldn’t be one of them. Lack of passion, his joy of playing, (he should be) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

Since that career game in Boston on Jan. 15, Doumbouya’s production has cratered: 5.5 points, 28% on field goals and 24% on 3-point field goals. That included Casey sitting him against the Raptors and Doumbouya’s playing time dropping to 22 minutes during that stretch.

To some degree, there’s a rookie wall that Doumbouya has hit, with the condensed NBA schedule and the mental and physical challenges. Doumbouya was the 15th pick in the draft last summer and many other rookies are having similar struggles.

Senior adviser Ed Stefanski, the Pistons’ de facto general manager, noted that Doumbouya’s play has been up and down, but the franchise is taking a slower approach in assessing how he can help best.

“Sekou is a roller coaster. Sekou just turned 19 and he's playing exactly how I thought. He's played at times and you go, ‘Wow,’ and then other times go, ‘Where the hell is he?’

“So, I feel good that what Sekou has shown. And if Sekou is what we think he is, where he'll focus and try to become the best player possible, then maybe we have something there.”

Casey has said Doumbouya could spend another stint with the Drive to help get his confidence back and to get more time to practice and work on developing his game, out of the spotlight of the Pistons and the hectic schedule.

Both the Drive and Pistons will be on the All-Star break later this week, and a few days away from the game could be as beneficial to Doumbouya as it is to some of the veterans.

The roller coaster has been up and down, so it certainly can go back up.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard