Beard: Sekou Doumbouya showing signs that Pistons made the right pick
New York — In a season of mostly misery and doom, Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya had one of the high points. In an otherwise nondescript matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 7, the Pistons’ fortunes seemed to change.
Doumbouya took a pass at the top of key, above the 3-point line, and faked, getting past his defender Kevin Love. Doumbouya drove the lane and Cavs center Tristan Thompson jumped in the lane, looking to draw an offensive foul. The rookie rose above Thompson and dunked viciously, sending Pistons fans into a frenzy.
About a week later, Doumbouya had a career-high 24 points against the Celtics, in what seemed to be a harbinger of more dunks, more buckets and more improvement from Doumbouya.
In two months since, Doumbouya has been a disappointment.
Since the Boston game, he has scored in double figures just once. The aggression and savoir faire that put him in the NBA focus during his first week as a starter, against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and LeBron James, seemed to be mirages in the West Coast heat in the midst of a cold spell in Detroit.
Coach Dwane Casey hinted that Doumbouya could use a stint back in the G-League with the Grand Rapids Drive, simply to help him regain his confidence by playing more regularly, even if it was against lower competition.
“Expectation levels were way up there and that's why from Day 1, I was trying to lower them to get everybody ready for this (regression). His time will come but he needs to play,” Casey said. “Nothing takes place of playing the G-League as many times as possible, then coming back here playing with us, back-to-backs, it doesn't matter.”
That happened Friday, in Doumbouya’s first game back in the G-League since his surge.
Doumbouya singed the Maine Red Claws for 30 points, including the eventual game-winner in the final seconds, for a 102-101 victory.
Unlike his recent performances with the Pistons, Doumbouya showed a deftness around the rim and finished in the paint with more confidence.
“He had 30 points and hit the game-winner, which should give you some confidence. Even if this is the G-League, it should give you confidence that, ‘Hey, I can still do this,’” Casey said. “Everybody looks at (going to the G-League) as punishment and other places I've been in, it was a reward. I think some people feel like it's a putdown to send him there — and it's not.
“It is a reward to go and play basketball at 19 years old, as many minutes as you can stand. You're not coming out of the game, as you would here. It's what it's about.”
Doumbouya, the 15th pick in the 2019 draft, packed that poise and brought it back during the Pistons’ loss Saturday to the Utah Jazz, scoring nine points and regaining some of the form that fostered optimism.
His season averages are 6.6 points and 3.2 rebounds, and while there is some concern about his recent production, there have been enough flashes to show that he probably was the right pick in the draft.
The Monday Drive takes a look at some other observations from the past week:
► Christian Wood has been playing some of the best basketball of his career, with back-to-back career-high games of 29 and 30 points, on Wednesday and Saturday. Since the trade deadline on Feb. 6, he’s posted impressive numbers: 22 points and 10.4 rebounds, while shooting 53 percent from the field and 38 percent on 3-pointers in 60 games. That should warrant some consideration for NBA Most Improved Player, especially considering that his previous career totals were 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 51 career games.
► Jordan McRae, who was claimed off waivers this week, has posted 15 and 14 points in his two games. He had two practice days to try to grasp the offensive and defensive principles, but he has been a good addition with his 3-point shooting and overall ability to score the ball. At age 28, he could be a consideration to keep around beyond this year, though he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
► Having lost 10 of their last 11 games, the Pistons are nearing the range of finishing with one of the three worst records in the league. That could net them with the best odds to get a top pick in the draft. All three of those worst records have the same odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft (14 percent) or a top-four pick (52.1 percent).
► Langston Galloway is finding his shooting rhythm again, after a bit of a slump. In his last 10 games, he’s averaging 10.4 points and is shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers. He’s been a reliable defender, but scoring is his main contribution. Casey said they sometimes take his production for granted, but his two-way play has helped them endure some of their major injuries.
► The numbers for Khyri Thomas aren’t overly impressive: 1.5 points over his last four games, but just getting back healthy and logging some playing time is a step forward for him. He’s missed most of the season because of a broken toe and Casey wants to give him a good look as a potential backup point guard in spurts for the remainder of the season. He’ll have that opportunity with so many injuries.