Pistons' Sekou Doumbouya feeling the squeeze in early going
Detroit — In the early part of the season, much of the attention has been focused on the Pistons’ three first-round picks and their development.
What might be getting lost in the shuffle is how their other two young players are doing. Sekou Doumbouya is one of the biggest question marks, playing 13 minutes in the opener and less than 10 minutes in the next three games.
On one hand, Doumbouya’s versatility is a benefit, in that he can play either of the forward positions — and in a pinch, can slide over to center.
The Pistons are deepest at forward, which makes it hard to find minutes for Doumbouya. It’s also where two of their best players, Blake Griffin and Jerami Grant, occupy the starting spots.
“Blake’s going to get the majority of those minutes and (Doumbouya’s) got to make his minutes count. If Blake's not going, (Doumbouya’s) minutes will get ratcheted up,” coach Dwane Casey said Thursday. “It's that situation, where he's behind an All-Pro guy, and that's his challenge right now.
“If you look at the plus-minus, when Jerami plays (power forward), our numbers are up. (Doumbouya) has to get it in gear. He's done a good job in practice and he still can do a better job. Nothing's going to be handed out.”
Doumbouya is averaging just 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in those limited minutes, but with Griffin in the NBA’s concussion protocol, there could be more opportunities in this weekend’s games against the Boston Celtics and early next week against the Milwaukee Bucks, where positional size will be a premium.
So far this season, Doumbouya has been his best in transition offense, and on the defensive end, where he can guard several positions and hold his own in a pick-and-roll. It’s still a small sample size, but there’s also competition, with Josh Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk and rookie Saddiq Bey, who can play small forward, which limits some of Doumbouya’s chances.
“He's coming and there's a lot of games and a lot of time yet to go,” Casey said. “I wouldn't make a lot out of it right now, but he is behind two really good players in that situation.”
Bey has made an impression on Casey and has turned that into some valuable playing time. Against the Atlanta Hawks, Bey got the surprise start and played 30 minutes, chipping in 10 points. He followed with 11 points in 15 minutes against the Golden State Warriors.
What’s helped his production is a quick trigger on his shot and having no fear in getting his shots up. Though he was 3-of-11 against the Hawks, he made a pair of 3-pointers. This season, he’s shooting 36% from beyond the arc, including 5-of-12 (42%) after the first game.
Bey also has turned down some shots, which made Casey push him more.
“He's got to take those shots. I've looked at our shot spectrum and we're getting the right shots. It's about getting down and getting ready as the game goes on and tightens up, the closeouts speed up,” Casey said. “That's when you have about a half-second to get it off. That's where the experience comes in with young players because those closeouts with length and speed and quickness are there, so you have to be down and ready.
“I love the way he's come out and the approach that he's not afraid of anything. But again, just adjusting to that NBA speed is what all rookies — not only our rookies — all rookies around the league have to adjust to. I would say in the second half of those stretches is what you're seeing.”
Although the Pistons started 0-4, it wasn’t as if they were blown out of those games. In fact, they had the lead in the fourth quarter of each game, with a couple of big leads surrendered in the final minutes of regulation.
It’s part of the learning process in the rebuild and figuring out the right way to win. There are going to be some disappointments in there, but at some point, there will be some successes.
“There's always been that one stretch, we've got to clean up and get that stretch shorter; it's kicking us in the butt,” Casey said. “Every game we've had it; we've played decent basketball for the majority of the time and we've got to clean up those stretches. That's part of the process, whatever we have to do with practice, taking care of the basketball, making sure we have our defensive rotations down pat, boxing out, all the fundamentals — it's nothing major.”